Medieval and Illuminated manuscripts collection, 30 B.C.-1893 C.E. | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections
The Medieval and Illuminated Manuscripts collection (30 B.C.E.-1893 C.E..; 0.5 cubic feet) includes 15 manuscript pages of Medieval and illuminated manuscripts. The following items can be found in the collection: three chapters from the Book of Timothy in the New Testament of the Bible, a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament, prayers and stories from the Book of Hours, Buddhist scriptures in Chinese block printing, poetry from Persia, and song and chant books. Each leaf from the collection was separated from its original monograph and acquired as an individual leaf. Information about the original monograph is included in the inventory of the collection. One item remains unidentified. The collection materials include paper or vellum.
<b>History of illuminated manuscripts</b>
During the Middle Ages, monasteries were the chief centers of book production. Specially trained monks spent tedious hours copying texts by hand and illuminating or decorating pages.
Two main materials used in making manuscript pages were parchment (the prepared skin of a sheep or goat) and vellum (fine parchment prepared from the skin of a calf). Vellum was the preferred, but more expensive, material. First, the manuscript-makers smoothed the surfaces of these materials with a pumice stone. Then, they folded the parchment or vellum leaves once across the middle and what is called a quaternion. After enough quaternions had been gathered to form a book, they were sent to the scribe, who performed the task of copying an original text.
The scribe’s work took place at a desk in a room called a scriptorium. The entire room was under the general supervision of the monastery but it also had unique, stringent rules of its own. Scriptores, as the writers were called, could not sued artificial light for fear of damaging the manuscripts. To prevent idleness and any type of disturbance, no one except higher officials of the monastery could enter the room while the scribes were working. The scribe himself could not alter the text in any way, even if the original he was copying was inaccurate. The armories, or special officer in charge of the scriptorium, demanded absolute silence, and required the scribes to signal if they needed something. If a scribe needed a book, he would extend his hands and make a gesture of turning over leaves. If he wanted a pagan work, he would scratch his ears in the manner of a dog.
Work in the scriptorium involved special preparation of the parchment or vellum pages, in addition to the actual writing of the text. A scribe, or perhaps a monk specially trained in the ruling of manuscript pages, pricked holes at proper intervals down each side of the page with an awl and then drew lines from hole to hole with a hard metal stylus. If the book required it, he left space for decoration along the margins or elsewhere. After the scribe had ruled the leaves and procured a pen and ink, he was ready to write. If a patron desired only one copy of a book, a scribe usually placed the original in front of himself and copied it. If, however, a patron wanted a number of copies of a book, several scribes wrote while another monk read the original text to them. Scribes usually spent six hours a day copying books.
After scriptores had copied the words of the text, they gave the pages to monks who illuminated, or illustrated, the pages with figural scenes, geometric patterns, etc. The illuminator almost always made a preparatory drawing accompanied by written notes indicating the colors he should apply. The colors used were primarily gold, red, and blue, with green, purple, yellow, white and black being used less often. The illuminator executed drawings in pen and ink, or in opaque or transparent water-colors. If the illuminations were red, they were called “rubrications,” and the artist was a rubricator. The illustrations on manuscript pages could be full or half-page illuminations, marginal images accompanying the text, or elaborate initials introducing the first word of a sentence or page.
When the illuminator had completed his work, he gave it to the binder, who sewed the pages together and added a cover which might have a leather surface and metal clasps. Ivory, silver, or gold covered the finest books in Medieval Times.
The painstaking process of producing manuscripts was considered a labor of love and piety, entered upon with prayer and blessed by the abbot of the monastery. The abbot would often tell the scribes that every letter transcribed would pay for one sin.
With the advent of the printing press, the art of creating illuminated manuscripts largely disappeared, since these ornate and beautiful volumes were expensive and time consuming to produce when compared with printed material. But during the 15th and 16th centuries, illuminations were added to printed books.
Society of American Archivists Glossary of Archival Records and Terminology
Materials within collection file
Item 1: Papyrus Fragment, 30 B.C.E.
Item 2: Bible chapters, 1230 C.E.
Item 3: Leaf from the Book of Hours, 1350 C.E
Item 4: Passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes, the Bible, 1360 C.E.
Item 5: “Sentences” of Peter Lombard, 1301-1400
Item 6: Buddhist scriptures, Chinese block printing, 1440 C.E.
Item 7: Book of Isaiah, Chapters 41-42, the Bible, 1401-1500
Item 8: Prayer, Book of Hours, 1490 C.E.
Item 9: Page from an Antiphonary (liturgical songbook), 1401-1500
Item 10: Leaf from Justinianus, Codex de Tortis by Baptista de Tortis, Venice, 1496 C.E.
Item 11: “Miracle on the Sea of Galilee,” from Breviarum Romanum Cum Calendario (Roman Breviary with Calendar), 1464 C.E.
Item 12: Leaf from an anthology of poetry, Persia, 1625 C.E.
Item 13: Unidentified
Item 14: Leaf from Sidonia the Sorceress, printed by William Morris at the Kelmscott Press, 1893 C.E.
Item 15: Agnus Dei, sheet music, Gregorian chant, probably Spanish, 1707-1800 C.E.
Item 16: Leaf from The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine, 1527 C.E.
Item 17: Illuminated leaf with poem by William Wordsworth
Item 18: Two leaves from unidentified copy of Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg chronicle), 1493 C.E.