The Manuscript Average

Guillaume Fillastre, La Toison d’Or, livre I BNF Fr 138 (331 folios) (Right-click and ‘View Image’ to enlarge images to full size)

Guillaume Fillastre, La Toison d’Or, livre I
BNF Fr 138 (331 folios)
(Right-click and ‘View Image’ to enlarge images to full size)

Read more in Jesse Hurlbut‘s blog on Manuscript Art

“When looking at medieval manuscripts, some easily gravitate to the ornamented and heavily illuminated pages for their spectacular visual quality. There is no question that the most well-known and widely reproduced images from the most famous manuscripts are usually the “pretty” pages. Serious scholarship provides important refinements to our understanding of these visual elements. Others capably focus on the text–sometimes a unique exemplar–that is inscribed on the pages. Where possible, they study the variations between different copies, comparing word for word. Still others are drawn to examine features of the codex or the paleography in all the minute details of composition and structure. These view the manuscript as an artifact capable of revealing much of its own history along with connections to other manuscripts or associated cultural phenomena.

In the course of my own explorations of medieval manuscripts (both hands-on and digitally), I have struggled to find an approach that allows for an overall appreciation of the entire object–to get a sense somehow for the whole thing. Already, the experience of hefting one of these historic volumes offers unique if vague satisfaction to the senses, even before opening it. One becomes aware of the weight, the dimensions, the wear and discoloration of the cover, the smell, and even the sounds it makes when the clasps are opened. The binding groans while the parchment crackles in response to the most careful gestures to leaf through it…

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