Saturday, November 28, 2009

Illuminated Manuscripts

by Jaye of Thirteenth Story

On the walls of my local library there are framed book pages, handwritten in heavy black ink with decorations along the borders. These pages date from the 13th Century, and they are gorgeous.

When looking at them, the words themselves become part of the overall design, the lines are less like letters and more like patterns. I am left to wonder about the artist, and what it was like to sit for hours and hand copy books word-for-word. When the sunlight faded, did they then work by candlelight?

It seems a daunting task, and it makes me smile that the monks and other people working on these books used the margins of the page to creatively convey the words in the story, or to have a diversion from the endless stream of letters. The first letter of a paragraph often has a very large capitol letter, these "initial letters" are heavily decorated and are in themselves spectacular pieces of miniature art.

The pages differ and can be of parchment, vellum, skin, or paper. Using gold leaf or red ink, color is introduced into the pages I have seen, but I understand the illustrations found around the world are mostly in full color.

As for the calligraphy, the lettering style is called Gothic Script, Old English Script, or Black Letter. Its something I have practiced myself and eventually abandoned, for my hands were cramping up. If you would like to give it a go, the best nib I found for the style was a Speedball C-2.

If you want one of these pages, of course you can find them for sale or auction online. A quick look today yielded two pages of results with varying prices. For a few hundred dollars (US), it seems you can own one of the beauties to frame for your own wall. And then you can sit and wonder what it was like to create such a fine thing.

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