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From the Greek palaiographia, meaning 'ancient writing', paleography is the study of the history of SCRIPTS, their adjuncts (such as ABBREVIATION and punctuation), and their decipherment. The fifteenth-century humanists (see HUMANISTIC) were the first to attempt to distinguish styles of handwriting according to date, but the discipline really began to develop during the second half of the seventeenth century. At this time, Jean Bolland, leader of a group of Flemish Jesuits, was charged by the Holy See with producing an authoritative compendium of SAINTS' LIVES. In the process, the Bollandists established criteria for determining the authenticity of documents through the analysis of script. Jean Mabillon, a Benedictine monk of St. Germain des Près, then published De re diplomatica (1681), which includes a section on the history of handwriting and uses paleographic means to argue for the validity of certain ancient grants to the Benedictine Order. Mabillon's principles for assessing the authenticity of documents gave rise to the formal discipline of paleography (or DIPLOMATIC, as it was known until the nineteenth century). Subsequent landmarks in the discipline include the Nouveau traité de diplomatique (1750-65) by the Benedictines René-Prosper Tassin and Charles-François Toustain, Charles-François-Bernard de Montfaucon's Palaeographia graeca (1708), and the work of Francesco Scipione Maffei of Verona (1675-1755). The twentieth century has witnessed the development of several major schools of paleography, defined by the approaches of key scholars, such as Ludwig Traube and E. A. Lowe.


Yates Thompson MS 14, f. 29v

The range of colours used in a work. The term derives from the name of the flat surface on which paints are sometimes mixed, although shells were more commonly used to contain prepared PIGMENTS during the Middle Ages.


From the Greek palimpsestos ('scraped again'), a palimpsest is reused writing support material from which the underlying text has been erased (by washing in the case of PAPYRUS and by using PUMICE or other scraping devices in the case of PARCHMENT). Erasure was not always complete and an underlying text can often be read with the assistance of ultraviolet light.


In the context of BINDING, panels are engraved metal blocks used to impress a design on a large part or the whole of a book cover, producing either a blind or gilded impression (see TOOLED). Panels were first used in thirteenth-century Flanders. See also BLOCKED.


Harley MS 3461, f. 49 Egerton MS 667, f. 173

In the mid-eighth century, the Arabs learned techniques of paper manufacture from the Chinese. The oldest Greek paper manuscripts were produced during the ninth century. Paper (carta or charter) was made in Muslim Spain beginning in the late eleventh century. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it was used in Italy and the Mediterranean for merchants' notes and by notaries for registers; from the thirteenth century on, paper was actually manufactured in Italy. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, production spread to Switzerland, the Rhineland, and France. In England there was limited production in the fifteenth century; only in the mid-sixteenth century was the paper making industry permanently established. (In the late fifteenth century, the famous publisher William Caxton and his colleagues were still largely importing supplies from Italy and France.) Correspondence was often written on paper beginning in the fourteenth century, and paper was commonly used in low-grade books from c. 1400 and in legal documents from the sixteenth century (although PARCHMENT also continued to be used). RULING on paper generally consists of FRAME RULING only. The humanists (see HUMANISTIC) revived HARD POINT ruling for a time, which worked well for parchment but damaged paper. In general, INK or LEAD POINT was used for ruling paper CODICES. In early paper books, QUIRES are often protected by parchment outer sheets or GUARDS.

Paper was traditionally made from cotton or linen rags, although more exotic substances such as silk were often employed in the Orient. The rags were soaked and pulverized until reduced to a pulp and were then placed in a vat with a solution of water and size. A wooden frame strung with wires (producing horizontal laid lines and vertical chain lines) was dipped into the mixture and agitated until the fibres fused to form a sheet of paper. This was then placed between sheets of blotting paper and pressed. The paper produced was then either trimmed or left with its rough (deckle) edge. Paper frames often incorporated wire devices (in the form of designs or monograms), which leave an image in the paper known as a watermark. There exist reference volumes containing reproductions of watermarks from broadly datable or localizable contexts, and it is frequently possible to identify watermarks by matching them against such reproductions.

Early paper is generally quite resilient, but beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, when book production increased dramatically, wood and other organic pulps were used (either completely or as additives). These substances introduce a level of acidity into the paper which causes it to turn brown and eventually to crumble away, presenting great difficulties in preservation. Modern acid-free papers are now available.


Egerton Papyrus 2, verso

A writing support material made from the papyrus plant, a species of water-grown sedge that grew abundantly in ancient Egypt, where it was used from about 3000 B.C. The outer skin of the stern of the papyrus plant was peeled off and the rest cut into strips that were laid side by side vertically, with another layer of strips then overlaid horizontally. The whole was dampened and beaten or pressed in the sun. The resin released by the fibres during this process fused them into a sheet that was then trimmed and smoothed with PUMICE. The next step was to attach the sheets with a flour paste to form a ROLL. Papyrus was also used for single sheet documents or folded to form CODICES.

The side with the horizontal fibres visible would generally be used for writing with a reed PEN: the horizontal fibres guided the writing on the inner surface, while the vertical fibres strengthened the outside. Papyrus was sturdy and plentiful, and it apparently was rarely reused. There is some indication that trade embargoes during ANTIQUITY led to experiments with other materials, such as PARCHMENT. In fact, in the fourth century, parchment generally replaced papyrus. But it was the collapse of the western Roman Empire and, more significantly, the spread of Islam from the seventh century on, with a consequent reduction of Mediterranean trade, that led to the abandonment of papyrus as an all-purpose writing material. It continued to be used, however, for documents produced in the chanceries of Merovingian Gaul and Ravenna during the sixth and seventh centuries, and the papal chancery used it as an exotic material until the eleventh century.


Harley MS 3082, f. 2

A writing support material that derives its name from Pergamon (Bergama in modern Turkey), an early production centre. The term is often used generically to denote animal skin prepared to receive writing, although it is more correctly applied only to sheep and goat skin, with the term vellum reserved for calfskin. Uterine vellum, the skin of stillborn or very young calves, is characterized by its small size and particularly fine, white appearance; however, it was rarely used.

To produce parchment or vellum, the animal skins were defleshed in a bath of lime, stretched on a frame, and scraped with a lunular knife while damp. They could then be treated with PUMICE, whitened with a substance such as CHALK, and cut to size. Differences in preparation technique seem to have occasioned greater diversity in appearance than did the type of skin used. Parchment supplanted PAPYRUS as the most popular writing support material in the fourth century, although it was known earlier. Parchment was itself largely replaced by PAPER in the sixteenth century (with the rise of printing), but remained in use for certain high-grade books. See also FLESH SIDE and HAIR SIDE.


A person responsible for making PARCHMENT. Before around 1200, parchment making was presumably conducted largely within monasteries, the primary producers of books. As LAY and commercial production of manuscripts increased, parchmenters often formed a trade group, with shops located in the same part of a town, near the water supply needed for production. See also STATIONER.



Offsets of the Hebrew script left by a former pastedown on the inside of the upper cover, Egerton MS 3775

A leaf pasted onto the inside of a board (see BOARDS) to conceal the CHANNELING and PEGGING and other mechanics of the BINDING. Pastedowns are often formed of fragments of earlier manuscripts that were considered dispensable.


Arundel MS 105, f. 2v Burney MS 292, f. 1

Patristic texts are those written by the Church Fathers or other EARLY CHRISTIAN writers whose authority was particularly respected in later periods. Well-known patristic authors include Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, and Saint John Chrysostom.


Jean de Berry or a member of his court kneeling before the Virgin and Child, Yates Thompson MS 37, f. 92 Margaret Willoughby kneeling before the Virgin and Child, Harley MS 2900, f. 200 André Serre, of Dijon, kneeling before his patron saint, Harley MS 3181, f. 22v

The person responsible for commissioning a work. Portraits of patrons are known throughout the Middle Ages, but they grew in popularity beginning in the fourteenth century. See also DONOR. See also the illustration accompanying LECTIONARY.


A system used from the thirteenth century on, in which university-approved EXEMPLARS of texts were divided into sections and were hired out by STATIONERS to SCRIBES for copying (pecia means 'piece' in Latin). Not all books, even those for school use, were subject to the pecia system. The sections often carried an abbreviation of the word pecia (for example, pa) and a numeral, written inconspicuously in the margin.


The securing of CORDS to the BOARDS of a BINDING by means of dowels or pegs, generally of wood.


Harley MS 2820, f. 120

A split reed, termed calamus in Latin (qalam in Arabic), was used to write on PAPYRUS during ANTIQUITY; a frayed reed was used as a BRUSH. These were replaced in the sixth century by the quill pen and animal-hair brushes, which were more flexible and thus better suited for work on PARCHMENT, a tougher material than papyrus. A quill is formed of the flight feather (one of the first five feathers) of the wing of a bird, often a goose - the word pen derives from the Latin for feather, penna. The feather was first hardened by heating or by soaking it in water and then immersing it in sand. Dutching is a form of curing in which a spatulate tool (dutching hook) is used to manipulate the cooling quill to produce a larger, flatter pen. Nibs were then cut with a KNIFE, the angle of the cuts affecting the appearance of the SCRIPT produced. Cursive (i.e., more rapidly written) scripts were generally produced with a thin pen and formal bookscripts with a broad pen. A nib cut at right angles to the shaft produces an informal, slanted-pen script in which the heads of letter strokes appear slanted, while a nib cut at an oblique angle to the shaft produces a formal, straight-pen script that has horizontal heads to the letter strokes.


Sloane MS 3098, f. 61v Additional MS 69865, f. 13v Burney MS 252, f. 4v

An INITIAL with a fine linear embellishment, produced with a thin PEN and either text INK or coloured inks. Blue and red were generally used during the late ROMANESQUE and GOTHIC periods. Green, common in Anglo-Norman manuscripts, was rarely used after 1200. Violet is found in manuscripts of the final quarter of the thirteenth century virtually everywhere except Paris, and purple occurs during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Pen flourishing can also be applied to other decorative components. See also LITTERA FLORISSA.


The first five books of the Old Testament, which were sometimes incorporated into a single volume.


Arundel MS 292, f. 114v

A test of a newly trimmed PEN nib, termed probatio pennae in Latin. A quill pen requires recutting very frequently (at least twice per FOLIO). Catch phrases, names, letters, and sketches were often written in the margins or on FLYLEAVES to test the recut nib, or simply as doodling.


Burney MS 160, f. 122

An ornamental INITIAL produced entirely with a PEN, generally using the same INK as the text. See also PEN-FLOURISHED INITIAL.



Arundel MS 250, ff. 2v-3

A series of illustrations of related subject matter that forms a set. One of the commonest types is the PREFATORY CYCLE, which precedes a book's main text. Prefatory cycles are often encountered in PSALTERS. Other illustrative cycles mark the major divisions of a text, such as the scenes from the life of the Virgin in a BOOK OF HOURS or scenes heading the chapters of a ROMANCE or CHRONICLE. Illustrations of the individual subjects of texts, such as those in a BESTIARY or HERBAL, also form a picture cycle.


The colouring agent in paint. The paints used in ILLUMINATION consist of vegetable, mineral, and animal extracts, ground or soaked out and mixed with glair as a BINDING MEDIUM, perhaps with some glue and water added. Other additives were also used, including stale urine, honey, and ear wax, to modify colour, texture, and opacity; inert whites such as CHALK, eggshell, or white lead were added to increase opacity. Some pigments were obtained locally (such as turnsole, or crozophora tinctona); others were exotic imports (such as ultramarine, made from lapis lazuli imported from Persia or Afghanistan). During the early Middle Ages, SCRIBES and/or ILLUMINATORS ground and prepared their own pigments, perhaps with the aid of an assistant, but with the growth of specialized, more commercial production around 1200, they often purchased their ingredients in prepared form from a STATIONER or an apothecary. With the rise of experimental science and international trade in the fourteenth century, many colours were added to the traditional PALETTE, which significantly affected styles of illumination. The production of synthetically manufactured pigments (such as mercury-based vermilion and copper blues) and imports (such as saffron yellow from crocus stamens and red lakes from Brazil woods largely imported from Ceylon) increased at this time.

Pigments are difficult to identify precisely without chemical analysis, although other techniques of analysis, such as radiospectroscopy and X-ray fluorescence, as well as reconstructions from medieval recipes, are advancing rapidly. Some pigments also change in a consistent fashion over time: for example, the red lead often used for RUBRICS frequently fades and turns silver-black through OXIDATION, and copper-based verdigris green sometimes eats through the support as it corrodes.



Egerton MS 931, f. 224v Lansdowne MS 451, f. 5 Yates Thompson MS 24, f. 2

A liturgical book containing the order of service for those sacraments administered exclusively by popes or bishops. Among these sacraments are the dedication of churches and altars, the ordination of clergy, confirmation, the blessing of abbots and abbesses and of holy oil, and the consecration of liturgical equipment.


A substance such as CHALK, ash, powdered bone, bread crumbs, or PUMICE that is rubbed into a writing surface in order to improve it. Pounce can reduce greasiness, raise the nap, and whiten PARCHMENT. The term is also used for a post-medieval technique employed in the transfer of an image.


Harley MS 2882, f. 48 Harley MS 2850, f. 47v Egerton MS 2904, f. 47

Collections of prayers for private devotional use appeared at least as early as the eighth century in the INSULAR world and shortly thereafter in the CAROLINGIAN Empire. In ninth-century English illuminated manuscripts, prayers began to be collected according to central devotional themes and were often accompanied by passages from the Gospels and the Psalms. Within the Carolingian and OTTONIAN milieux, series of prayers were often appended to PSALTERS, but without a thematic structure. Throughout the Middle Ages, prayer books supplemented the psalter and the BOOK OF HOURS as volumes for devotional use. Prayer books grew in popularity during the later Middle Ages, a number containing fine ILLUMINATIONS having been produced for aristocratic PATRONS (such as Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy) in the fifteenth century.


Burney MS 340, f. 1

The term embraces the cultures in much of mainland Europe prior to their absorption into the CAROLINGIAN Empire during the late eighth and early ninth centuries. During the pre-Carolingian period, GERMANIC peoples (such as the Franks, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Lombards, and Burgundians) established a number of successor states throughout what had been the western Roman Empire. Their cultures represented a fusion of pagan Germanic and Christian, or Arian, traditions. Language and SCRIPT underwent a process of vulgarization to some extent, with certain centres (such as Rome, Vivarium, Milan, Seville, Toledo, St. Gall, Bobbio, Luxeuil, and Corbie) attempting to preserve elements of the learning and culture of late ANTIQUITY. The pre-Carolingian period also saw the increasing application of ornament to text and the development of the decorated letter.

Pre-Carolingian is used in a more specific context when referring to the culture of Gaul from the fifth to the eighth century - that is, Merovingian Gaul before the Carolingian period.


Lansdowne MS 420, ff. 11v-12 Additional MS 17687, f. F

A series of MINIATURES that introduce a text. The prefatory cycle in manuscript PSALTERS reached a developed form in ANGLO-SAXON England in the mid-eleventh century (the Tiberius Psalter). Psalter cycles usually consist of scenes from the life of Christ or of King David, author of many of the Psalms.


Pierre de Valtan presenting his book to the King of France Charles VIII, Additional MS 35320, f. 3v

A MINIATURE depicting the presentation of a book to its PATRON or DONOR. Strictly speaking, the presentation miniature appears only in the presentation copy of a text, but such images frequently entered into the decorative program and would be included in subsequent copies (in which case the term dedication miniature is preferable). Although encountered earlier, presentation miniatures became popular during the fifteenth century.


Yates Thompson MS 17, f. 2 Stowe MS 57, f. 48v Arundel MS 536, f. 24v

The marking of a FOLIO or BIFOLIUM by a point or KNIFE to guide RULING. The term also refers to the series of marks that resulted. Pricking was generally conducted before the bifolia were folded to form a QUIRE. In INSULAR manuscript production, however, pricking was done after folding. Templates were occasionally used.


Alternative English name for a BOOK OF HOURS.




Various ownership marks, inside the upper cover of Stowe MS 35 Coat of arms of John Morton (d. 1500), bishop of Ely from 1478 to 1486, Arundel MS 366, f. 1

Provenance is the history of a book's ownership. Provenance information may be deduced from evidence relating to the original commission (such as HERALDRY, EMBLEMS, DEVICES, and MOTTOES), from subsequent additions and annotations (including OBITS, inscriptions, bookplates, and library labelling), or from references in catalogues, correspondence, and other records.


Harley MS 603, f. 58 Harley MS 2438, f. 82 Yates Thompson MS 14, f. 7

The psalter is the Book of Psalms. Medieval manuscripts of the Psalms were used in liturgical as well as private devotional contexts and often contained ancillary texts such as a CALENDAR, Canticles, creeds, a LITANY OF THE SAINTS, and prayers.

Psalters designed for use in the performance of the DIVINE OFFICE often contain other relevant texts, such as the Hours of the Virgin. The psalter was the principal book for private devotions before the emergence of the BOOK OF HOURS in the thirteenth century. The Psalms also formed a major part of many medieval PRAYER BOOKS from the ninth century on. In the non-monastic Roman LITURGY of the Middle Ages, all one hundred and fifty Psalms were recited each week, the majority at matins and vespers. The cycle began at matins on Sunday with Psalm 1 and continued at matins on the following days: Psalm 26 was the first recited on Monday, Psalm 38 the first on Tuesday, Psalm 52 the first on Wednesday, Psalm 68 the first on Thursday, Psalm 80 the first on Friday, Psalm 97 the first on Saturday. The cycle for vespers commenced on Sunday with Psalm 109 and continued throughout the week with the remaining Psalms (some Psalms were set aside for other hours). Other divisions of the Psalms are occasionally found, such as the Irish division of the three fifties (beginning at Psalms 1, 51, and 101). Such divisions would often be given prominence within the decorative program.

Depictions of King David, author of many of the Psalms, frequently introduce the psalter (especially as historiated Beatus initials to Psalm 1), and PREFATORY CYCLES were often added, along with an illuminated calendar. BYZANTINE psalter illustration exerted an important influence on the West.


Volcanic glass, used in its powdered form as POUNCE on PARCHMENT; in its consolidated form, it was employed to scrape parchment for reuse as a PALIMPSEST.


Stowe MS 3, f. 15

Sheets of PARCHMENT dyed or painted purple, as a background for ILLUMINATION or for SCRIPT in gold or silver (see CHRYSOGRAPHY). Purple pages were introduced into high-grade book production during the LATE ANTIQUE and EARLY CHRISTIAN periods as marks of costliness and luxury and sometimes to imbue a work with imperial connotations (from the Greek porphyrogenitus, or 'born in the purple', used of children born to reigning BYZANTINE emperors). Several important liturgical volumes made in the INSULAR, ANGLO-SAXON, CAROLINGIAN, and OTTONIAN worlds employed purple pages, and they enjoyed a revival during the RENAISSANCE. In Mediterranean regions, murex purple (a shell-fish dye) was often used, but in northwestern Europe alternatives such as the plant-dye folium (from the turnsole, or crozophora tinctoria) seem to have been more frequently employed.


Burney MS 174, f. 3v

A nude infant, usually depicted with wings, popular in RENAISSANCE art as a means of enriching the decorative quality of a work.

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