My medieval manuscripts
Updated January 17 2005

I love old manuscripts. Each one of them is a small part of the world history, they are esthetically beautiful, almost alive, they convey many things. I often try to imagine the work of a monk in his scriptorium, who painfully copied and decorated a whole Bible for example. You needed months to have a copy of a book in the medieval times. Written information was an extremely rare and expensive good. Nowadays, you can copy a whole encyclopedia in one second. Just copy and paste on a computer.

I was actually surprised that you could buy some of these manuscripts, that would be much better in a museum than in my appartment. So I bought a few of them, which are presented below.

One day on a french blog called Blitztoire, apparently written by someone whose passion and work is all about medieval history, I read something that instilled the seed of doubt in my mind. On a tough article for me (in french, automatic translation in english here), he pointed out my collection, and very convincingly argued that buying detached leaves of manuscripts like I do is creating a market that encourages unscrupulous vendors to destroy entire books, sometimes even cutting a whole leaf in small pieces to make more money. It took me by surprise, because the vendors I dealt with (at least for the most beautiful items presented here) were definitely serious professionals, clearly very respectful of the manuscripts. The small cistercian fragment was given to me as a gift by one of them (so it was clearly not about money), and I remember that he said the leaf was in very bad shape, almost destroyed, and what could be saved were just a few fragments. I think I read somewhere that an entire bound book has much more value on the market than the sum of its leaves. But of course, it's probably much more difficult to sell.

At the end, I don't know what to think about it. Maybe I was a bit naive. I sometimes myself saw cut fragments of leaves for sale and hated it, because it was clearly intentional (for example a fragment with only an illuminated initial), but I thought it was a century old practice. Just like when people destroyed many leaves of the Book of Kells when they tried to re-bind it (just thinking about that, I shiver). Maybe it's not that important, because my manuscripts don't have a huge historical interest. But I would hate to encourage some bad market practice that destroy something as unique and beautiful than old manuscripts. I don't know. I just wanted to let the readers know about it.

My oldest manuscript: 12th century. Yes, this small piece of vellum is 800 years old. It's a very small piece of a partially destroyed leaf which was much bigger (60x45 cm). It comes from France and was executed by a cistercian monk around 1150, at the Monastery of Citeaux in Bourgogne (hence the name of the cistercians). This monk order was known for its austere and ascetic way of life, which you can see reflected in the architecture, and of course in the manuscripts as well. No complex and frivolous illumination with gold and colors here, but perfect regular calligraphy in black and white. I love it. I remember I was about to buy an intact page of it, but well, it was 2000 dollars. It's written in latin and is a patristic text: Florus of Lyon's Expositio in Epistolas Pauli. On vellum. [3x8 cm]
Probably the most beautiful (and expensive) piece of medieval artwork I have. It's a leaf from a pocket bible, written in the 13th century, around 1240, in the Johannes Grusch Atelier in Paris. The style of the script is gothic, and the letters are incredibly small (around 1 millimeter!). There is a very beautiful and colorful six-line initial illumination with two monster heads, which indicate the start of the Prophecy of Sophonias, a part of the old testament. On vellum. [14x9 cm]
15th century, around 1475, Germany. Part of a small Brevarium Monasticum, a book containing daily prayers for church people. In latin. Small gothic script (letters are 2 millimiters high) in brown ink, decorated with blue and red Lombard initials. I like the use of primary colors only, and the different style of initials, so I bought two pages of it. On vellum. [10x7.5 cm]
Hum, I don't remember where this small piece of crap comes from, and have no information about it. I just remember I bought it because it was cheap, because of the nicely decorated R initial (starting the word "Regina"), because it's a double leaf, and because it looked unfinished: just one out of 4 faces is actually written, the other ones have fine pencil lines already prepared for the future text that never came. From the rounded gothic style, I would bet it's a pretty late manuscript, probably 15th century. On vellum. [10x15 cm]
15th century, around 1440. A small and nice example of a batarde script. It combines the rigidity and strength of gothic with a more rounded style from cursive scripts. It's written in Dutch and some initials are highlighted with red ink. It comes from a small prayerbook, and is on paper, not vellum. [10x7 cm]
15th century, written around 1450 in France in latin. Part of a psalterium. In a gothic script. You can still see small holes on the side which were used to ensure that all lines of text are well aligned. I like the way the initials are decorated, with fine penwork of red and blue ink. The whole leaves have a really nice visual impact, mainly because of the contrast between the very clear vellum, the well conserved black/brown ink, and the use of red, blue and yellow ink. So I have two of them. The one on the right has written on it the gospel of St Matthew, and the one on the left has the Prophecy of Jeremiah. On vellum. [18x13 cm]
20th century, some bad calligraphy I did a few years ago when I was young and stupid. The scans are really bad, especially the colors. I used different styles, the ones I prefer: chancellery script, gothic, irish semi-uncial, merovingian...

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