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AlphabeThursday B is for Book

November 29, 2012

The word book first used to describe a writing tablet, leaf or sheet; generally thought to be etymologically connected with the name of a beech tree.  This suggests that the first inscriptions were made on ‘beechen’ tablets or cut into the bark of beech trees.

From about  6th century AD books were produced by scribes; often monks working in workshops known as scriptoria.  They worked predominantly on reproduction of liturgical works needed for the learning material for novices and for worship.  This and secular texts were written in Latin; on parchment and vellum,  folded into pages and ruled with lines and gathered into quires.  If multiple copies were needed then the text would be shared among the scribes, who would be responsible for a particular section.
Work was overseen by an armarius who would distribute parchment, pens, ink and rulers.  Copying would only be undertaken in daylight hours as candles were serious fire risk. The scribe using black ink would only copy the body of the text; leaving the titles, headings and initials for the rubricator using red ink.
Attempts were made to speed up the process by using different styles of writing. For example Uncial and half-Uncial were developed in the 4th century and used up until the 12th century.

 The Irish Book of Kells is a fine example of the script.  Emperor Charlemagne tried to improve the standards of writing which lead to the development of the Carolingian minuscule script which became the basis of most European scripts since.
By the 14th century with the Gothic art style came new letter-forms; such as the English ‘black letter, the French ‘lettre batarde’ the German ‘frakyur’ and the Italian ‘rotunda’.  The first types were based on these letter-forms.
As literacy increased in the Middle Ages and the demand from universities grew so the manufacture of books changed.  Commercial scriptoria were established and pecia system was used; a network of copyists would reproduce sections of a book. Also serving a very lucrative market of luxury book collectors.   However; during this time so the monastic scriptoria flourished with the growth of new religious orders such as the Carthusians and the Brethren of Common Life.
Manuscripts commissioned by wealthy patrons, were often decorated or illuminated.  Illuminations consisted of three elements: the initial, the border, and the miniature.  The miniature was not particularly small but the pictorial part of the decoration.

The initial might be decorated with flourishes or intertwined foliage or part of the miniature with pictures in the loops.  The border usually surrounded the text but sometimes it separated the miniature from the text.  These drawings could be coloured or had gold or silver leaf applied; thus the book becoming a work of art and a vital collectable.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2012 1:07 pm

    I’m in love with books so this was a great post to read! How sacred books once were. A lot has changed over the years. Books are still sacred to me though! 🙂

  2. November 29, 2012 1:19 pm

    Fascinating! Are you able to decipher the words? I have poor script-reading skills, which makes reading old documents for genealogy a challenge.

    • November 29, 2012 2:01 pm

      I could in time; so like you a challenge so I just like to gaze and enjoy and imagine the scribe 😉

  3. November 29, 2012 1:35 pm

    Beautiful photo and great post for ‘B’ ~ (A Creative Harbor) ^_^

  4. November 30, 2012 12:07 am

    Illuminated manuscripts are so beautiful – thanks for showing us some. I wonder what monks would think nowadays, seeing all the different fonts we use! {:-Deb

    • November 30, 2012 5:31 am

      You know what ! I think they were the ground breakers in many ways we have not moved on much further … we seem to almost ‘got too much’ …. what a wonderful world xxxx

  5. December 6, 2012 12:38 pm

    I’ve always been fascinated by illuminated manuscripts as well.

    I cannot imagine being hunched over a desk with poor lighting and poor art instruments creating such absolute treasures.

    This was a beautiful and fascinating post for the letter “B”.

    Thank you for sharing it.


  6. October 7, 2016 2:46 pm

    The Irish Book of Kells..your post brought it back to me…standing there mesmerized. Bless you!

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