Medieval and Early Modern
III.ii. Decoration and Illumination
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Certain types of decoration and illustration are common in late medieval manuscripts, and influence the design and decoration of early printed books. What follows is a sampling of the terms (and basic concepts) useful in the study of the decorative aspects of medieval manuscripts; most of the definitions of these terms presented here are taken from the glossary included in Kathleen L. Scott's catalogue of Later Gothic Manuscripts, 1390-1490, 2 vols.; A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles 6 (London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 1996), supplemented from a variety of other sources and glossaries.
- Stationer: "In the late 14th and 15th centuries, a tradesman (and possibly woman) who was engaged in some or all of the following activities: organizing the production of manuscript-books among the various craftsmen involved, selling new and second-hand manuscripts and (later) printed books, acting as the agent in the purchase of books and in importing books, evaluating books and estate books, and selling items not connected with the book trade; but who either at the same time or previously may have been a craftsman in the book trade (e.g. scribe, limner, or binder) and therefore probably trained apprentices" (Scott 376).
- Limner: "A general term employed here, following contemporary medieval usage, to denote a maker of either or both miniatures and border or other secondary decoration in a book" (Scott 373).
- Flourisher: "A maker of pen-work decoration on initials and of flourish-work or pen-work borders" (Scott 371).
- Miniature: from the Latin miniare, "to pick out in red" (cf. "rubrication"), coming to mean a picture, related to the contents (as distinct from an "illustration," which is a picture, for instance drawn in a margin, which is decorative but not related to the contents).
- Illumination: "to illuminate" means, of course, to fill with light; illuminating a manuscript has to do with using gold and silver in decorative elements, in order, by reflected light, to give the appearance that there is light within the manuscript. The term is sometimes used loosely to refer more generally to the decoration and illustration of manuscripts, but this blurs distinctions and makes the word less useful.
- Illustration: from illustrare, "to adorn, to embellish"; thus it includes what we commonly think of as illustrations (pictorial works in a book), but in technical and medieval usage also includes all decorative elements (even the non-pictorial) in a manuscript.
- Border: "a type of book decoration placed around one to four sides of the justification [writing space] in order to distinguish and decorate main divisions of the text; usually more elaborate on the first text page and/or Table of Contents page; also used around miniature frames" (Scott 370).
- Cadel: from a Dutch or French word ("cadel," "cadeau") for a little gift, something "extra"; it is used to refer to "extra" items, such as pen-drawn faces or grotesques, added to an initial letter.
- Decorated initial: introductory letter of a text division, embellished (not necessarily containing a picture, and not necessarily decorated with something selected for its "appropriateness" to the text which it introduces).
- Historiated initial: introductory letter of a text division, containing within the outlines of the letter a pictorial scene or figure related to the text which it introduces (such as a scene from the story or a portrait of the author).
- Inhabited: "inhabited" is most often used of borders, but can also be used with reference to initial letters and spray-work, indicating the presence of figures or grotesques. The "inhabitation" may further be distinguished as "zoömorphic" if there are animal forms, or "anthropomorphic" if there are human forms.
- Text decoration (or "secondary" decoration): "Ornamentation of a book, apart from miniatures; that is, borders, decorated initials to a height of more than one line, calligraphic work, paraphs, line endings, decorated catchwords, coloured ruling" (Scott 376, under "Secondary").
- Rubrication: from the Latin ruber ("red") and rubrico ("to colour red"), "rubrication" has to do with the practice of using red ink to add visual emphasis to particular words in a text or, more usually, to the headings marking the divisions within a text. In late medieval manuscripts, other colours (such as blue and green) are used to "rubricate." The practice of rubricating headings (using red ink to write a heading, or using red to add highlights to a headings) led to the use of the word "rubric" to indicate a heading, though technically it designates only those headings which are "reddened."
- Flourishing: "Ornamentation in pen-work, often red on a blue initial (but sometimes in lavender and occasionally green), by means of sweeping lines and loops descending from patterns, often 'saw-tooth' at this period [14th and 15th century], adjoining the letter" (Scott 372).
- Feathering: "A spray form of decoration, consisting of short, slightly curving pen lines often ending in a lobe (after c. 1410 usually tinted green), gold motifs, and coloured motifs; . . . a basic element of 15th-century book decoration" (Scott 371).
- Calligraphic work: "Decorative work, usually developing from or used to make up an important or introductory initial, or developing from ascenders at the top of a page and from descenders at the bottom of the justified text; a series of strokes made by holding a quill pen constant at one angle to produce broader and narrower lines, which in combination appear to overlap one another to form strap-work . . ." (Scott 370).
- Spray work: "Pen-work vines composed of feathering with lobes and single motifs in colours and gold, in straight and curling form, in the manner of a growing branch; attached to mid-points of bar frame or occasionally to corners; attached to initials to indicate a more important text division than an initial with sprays of feathering and gold motifs only; sometimes attached to miniature frames; used with an initial at an important text division and elongated to form a two- or three-sided partial border (without a bar frame). The Middle English term for this type of decoration was apparently 'sprynget'" (Scott 376).
- Diaper work: "A type of decorative background in which a series of parallel lines intersect at a 90-degree angle with another series of parallel lines to form a diamond lattice or a square lattice, with the internal surfaces rendered in colours and gold; usually used in miniatures"; this is one of the kinds of "wallpaper" effect which one often finds as the background in medieval pictures (Scott 371).
- Scroll work: "A spiral ornament of apparent parchment or paper, illusionistically rendered, used for various decorative purposes in later English manuscripts, i.e. in initial stems, within band borders, around bar frames, around a central support, on ascenders and descenders, and at other, unusual locations" (Scott 376).
- Filigree work: "Delicate, conventional designs, usually in gold, on a flat coloured surface, in overall patterns of curling vines, branches, and sprigs and/or leaves; used as a background to miniatures and initials and on band borders and miniature frames" (Scott 371).
- Trellis work border: "A type of border normally used at an introductory or other important text division; may take varied forms but basically that of vines weaving between two separated bars to form areas infilled with leaves, flowers, heads, etc." (Scott 377).
- Grisaille: "Decorative work or illustrative scenes rendered mainly in shades of grey or muted brown; in English 15th-century illustration, often in combination with colours or gold, i.e. figures in a monochrome tone against a coloured background; not common in 15th-century English book illustration" (Scott 372).
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[ Course Notes: Introduction ] |
[ I. Towards a definition of "manuscript studies" ] |
[ I.ii. The four branches of bibliographical study ] |
[ I.iii. Topics in the social history of texts ] |
[ II. Diplomatics ] |
[ III. Codicology ] |
[ III.ii. Decoration and Illumination ] |
[ IV. Paleography ] |
[ IV.ii. Historical Notes ] |
[ IV.iii. Writing Implements ] |
[ IV.iv. Letter Formation ] |
[ IV.v. Special Characters in English Manuscripts ] |
[ IV.vi. Scribal Abbreviations ] |
[ IV.vii. Punctuation ] |
[ IV.viii. Paleographical sample: William Herebert, OFM (early fourteenth-century England) ] |
[ Herebert sample, with transcription ] |
[ Herebert sample: enlargement of full page reproduced at high resolution ] |
[ V. Textual analysis (James E. Thorpe) ] |
[ V.ii. Scribal error ] |
[ V.iii. Kinds of edition ] |
[ V.iv. Examples of over emendation on insufficient grounds ] |
[ VI. Linguistic competence (an example): An Outline History of the English Language ] |
[ VII. Libraries and archives: ] |
[ VII.ii. British Library Manuscript Collections ] |
[ VII.iii. Bodleian Library Manuscript Collections ]
© 1998 Stephen R. Reimer
English; University of Alberta; Edmonton, Canada
All rights reserved.
Created: 2 Dec. 1998; Last revised: 2 Dec. 1998