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Imaginary Animals, in the Codex Justiniani

Imaginary Animals, in the Codex Justiniani

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1250

Shelfmark: Harley MS 3753

Item number: f.37v

Length: 41.2

Width: 26

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

The Codex Justiniani, called the 'Digest' or 'Pandects', goes back to 534 when the Emperor Justinian had imperial decisions and enactments compiled as part of his programme to codify Roman law. When law began to be studied in western European universities, starting with Bologna in the 11th century, the 'Pandects' became valued as basic legal texts. The need for huge textbooks like the Codex Justiniani fuelled the development of workshops to produce books outside of monasteries. In England, Oxford became a manuscript producing centre, turning out books like this one, which was owned by Merton College. This page shows the specialised layout that was developed to present heavily glossed texts (texts with explanatory notes in the margins or between the lines). The 'Pandects' text is in the larger writing to the right of the vertical strip of imaginary animals and human figures. The wide margins are designed to hold the glosses, which ideally are written next to the relevant text. It is not hard to imagine why textbooks with bits of decoration in them would have been in demand--to provide relief from the not very light-hearted legal text.

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