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Manuscripts

Manuscripts Collection

History Archive - Manuscripts Collection

Every book written by hand on flexible material and intended to be placed in a library is called a manuscript. Manuscripts have been composed from the most remote antiquity (Egyptian papyri of the memphite epoch) down to the period of the invention of printing. However, Greek manuscripts were still copied until the end of the sixteenth century, and in the monasteries of the East (Mount Athos, Syria, Mesopotamia, etc.), the copying of manuscripts continued well into the nineteenth century. On the other hand the most recent Western manuscripts date from the last years of the fifteenth century.

Many manuscripts are illustrated with ornaments are called "eluminures", illuminations, or miniatures, a word used since the end of the sixteenth century. At first the "miniator" was charged with tracing in red minium the titles and initials. Despite its limitations, the art of illumination is one of the most charming ever invented featuring:

(1) Initials of chapters or paragraphs, ornamented sometimes very simply, sometimes on the other hand with a great profusion of interlacings, foliage, and flowers; these are developed along the whole length of the page and within are sometimes depicted persons or scenes from everyday life;

(2) Paintings on the margin, in which some scene is carried over several pages;

(3) Borders around the text (interlacing colonnades, etc.), the most remarkable example is that of the evangelistic canons of the Middle Ages; full-page paintings (or such as cover only a part of the page), but forming real pictures, similar to frescoes or easel pictures; these are chiefly found on very ancient or very recent manuscripts (fourteenth and fifteenth centuries);

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Manuscript Materials

The principal materials employed in the making of manuscripts have been papyrus, parchment, and paper. In exceptional cases other materials have been used (e.g. the linen books of Etruria and Rome, a specimen of which was found on an Egyptian mummy in the museum of Agram; the silken books of China, etc.). Besides, in ancient time and during the Middle Ages tablets dipped in wax on which characters were traced with a stylus were made us of for fugitive writings, accounts, etc.; these might be folding in two (diptychs), or in three (triptychs), etc. Papyrus (charta aegyptica) was obtained from a long-stemmed plant terminating in a large and elegant umbrella; this was the Cyperus Papyrus, which grew in the marshes of Egypt and Abyssinia. The stem was cut in long strips which were placed one beside the other. On the vertical strips others were placed horizontally; then after they had been wet with the water of the Nile they were submitted to strong pressure, dried in the sun, and rubbed with shells to render them solid.

To make a book the separate pages (selides, paginae) were first written on, then they were put end to end, the left margin of each page being made to adhere to the right margin of the preceding page. A roll (volumen) was thus secured, of which the dimensions were sometimes considerable. Some Egyptian rolls are forty-six feet long by nine or ten inches wide, and the great Harris papyrus (British Museum) is one hundred and forty-one feet long. The end of the last page was fastened to a cylinder of wood or bone (omphalos, umbilicus), which gave more consistency to the roll. The page having been ruled, the writing was done with a sharpened reed on the horizontal portion of the fibres.

From being almost exclusively used in Egypt, the use of papyrus spread to Greece about the fifth century, then to Rome and throughout the West. Its price remained very high; in 407 B.C. a roll of twenty leaves was worth twenty-six drachmas, or about five dollars (Corp. Insc. Attic., I, 324). Pliny the Elder (Hist. Nat., XIII, 11-13) gives a list of its various grades (charta Augusta, Liviana, etc.). Egypt retained the monopoly of the manufacture, which furthermore belonged to the State. Alexandria was the principal market. In the first centuries of the Middle Ages it was exported to the West by the "Syrians", but the conquest of Egypt by the Arabs (640) stopped the trade. However it still continued to be used for diplomas (at Ravenna until the tenth century; in the papal chancery until 1057). The Arabs had attempted to cultivate the plant in Sicily.

Parchment

Parchment (charta pergamena), made of the skin of sheep, goats, calves (vellum), asses, etc., was used by the Ionians and the Asiatics as early as the sixth century B.C. (Herodotus, V, 58); the anecdote related by Pliny (Hist. Nat., XIII, 11), according to which it was invented at Pergamus, seems legendary; it would seem that its manufacture was simply perfected there. Imported to Rome in ancient times, parchment supplanted papyrus but slowly. It was only at the end of the third century A.D. that it was preferred to papyrus for the making of books. Once prepared, the parchment (membrana) was cut into leaves which were folded in two; four leaves together formed a book of eight folios (quaternio); all the books formed a codex. There was no paging before the fifteenth century; writers merely numbered first the books (signature), then the folios. The dimensions of the leaves varied; the most in use for literary texts was the large quarto.

An Urbino catalogue (fifteenth century) mentions a manuscript so large that it required three men to carry it (Reusens, "Paleographie", 457); and there is preserved at Stockholm a gigantic Bible written on ass-skin, the dimensions of which have won for it the name of "Gigas librorum". The page was ruled in dry point so deeply that the mark was visible on the other side. Parchments were written on both sides (opistographs). As parchment became very rare and costly during the Middle Ages, it became the custom in some monasteries to scratch or wash out the old text in order to replace it with new writing. These erased manuscripts are called palimpsests.

With the aid of reacting chemicals the old writing has been made to reappear and lost texts have been thus discovered (the Codex Vaticanus 5757 contains under a text of St. Augustine the "De Republica" of Cicero; recovered by Cardinal Mai). Manuscripts thus treated have been nearly always incomplete or mutilated; a complete work has never been recovered on a palimpsest. Finally, by sewing strips of parchment together, rolls (rotuli) were made similar to those formed of papyrus (e.g. Hebrew Pentateuch of Brussels, ninth century, on fifty-seven sewn skins, forty yards in length; "rolls of the dead", used by the associations of prayer for the dead in the abbeys; administrative and financial rolls used especially in England to transcribe the decrees of Parliament, etc.)

Paper

Paper is said to have been invented in China in A.D. 105 by a certain Tsai-Louen (Chavannes, "Jounr. Asiatique", 1905, 1). Specimens of paper of the fourth century A.D. have been found in Eastern Turkestan (expeditions of Stein and Sven Hedin). It was after the taking of Samarkand (704) that the Arabs learned to make paper, and introduced it to Bagdad (795), and to Damascus (charta damascena). It was known in Europe as early as the end of the eleventh century, and at this early date it was used in the Norman chancery of sicily; in the twelfth century it began to be used for manuscripts. It was sold even then in quires and reams (Arabic, razmah) and in the thirteenth century appeared the filigranes or watermarks.

According to chemical analyses, the paper of the Middle Ages was made of hempen or linen rags. The expression "charta Bombycina" comes from the Arab manufactory of Bombyce, between Antioch and Aleppo. The copyist of the Middle Ages used chiefly black ink, incaustum, composed of a mixture of gall nuts and vitrol. Red ink was reserved from ancients times for titles. Gold and silver ink were used for manuscripts de luxe (see EVANGELIARIA). The method of binding codices has varied little since ancient times. The books were sewn on ox sinews placed in rows of five or six on the back. These sinews (chordae) served to attach to the volume wooden covers, which were covered with parchment or dyed skin. Covers of the manuscripts de luxe were made of ivory or brass, ornamented with carvings, precious stones, cut and uncut.

References:

Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 9 (1913)

Available Books

Images

Image Name
Book Display II
Northern Europe
Trat: 1 - Lamina 8
Trat: 3 - Lamina 6
China Sea with the Moluccas
Photograph of Colonel Percy Herrison Fawcett in 1911
Circular World Map of the Portuguese Hemisphere
Terre du Perou I
Mediterranean Sea
Book Display II
Defaite de Databalipa
Northwest Africa
Ptolemy's Map of Europe - V
Afrique occidentale II
Southwestern Atlantic Ocean with Brazil
Trat: 1 - Lamina 32
Terre australe III
Plans of Ports, Islands, and Straits of the Red Sea, East Asia, and Philippines
Ptolemy's Map of Asia - VIII
Trat: 2 - Lamina 2
Chart of Ceylon
Neuve Espagne I
South Pacific
Back Cover
Apendice - Lamina 4
Book Display I
Ptolemy's Map of Africa - II
Book Display IV
Front Cover
Terre de Floride - Partie de la mer oceanne
Grande et Petite Jave II
Europe centrale et meridionale
Trat: 3 - Lamina 4
Trat: 1 - Lamina 28
Frontispiece
Inserted Spanish Letter [II]
Apendice - Lamina 7
Grande et Petite Jave I
Book Display II
Atlantique sud
Pourtour de la mer noire
South Atlantic
Terre australe I
Terre australe IV
Percy Fawcett's Basalt Idol
Apendice - Lamina 1
Title Page
Back Cover
Trat: 1 - Lamina 12
Front Cover
Apendice - Lamina 13
Mediterranee orientale et Moyen-Orient
Book Display I
Title Page
Afrique meridionale
Back Cover
Back Cover
Central Atlantic Ocean with the Azores
Europe septentrionale et Groenland I
Title Page
Front Cover
Front Cover
Book Display III
Front Cover
Ptolemy's Map of Europe - VI
Premiere Projection
Ptolemy's Map of Europe - I
Book Display III
Ptolemy's World Map
Book Display II
Europe meridionale et Afrique du nord-ouest II
Front Cover
Trat: 2 - Lamina 10
North America, East Coast
Ptolemy's Map of Europe - X
Apendice - Lamina 9
Book Display III
Trat: 2 - Lamina 9
Book Display IV
Ptolemy's Map of Asia - XI
Mer de l'Inde orientale et des Moluques
Apendice - Lamina 2
Afrique du Nord-ouest
Apendice - Lamina 5
Holland
Trat: 1 - Lamina 9
Book Display IV
Mer des Antilles
Plans of Ports in the West Indies
Book Display I
Inserted Spanish Letter [III]
Inde orientale
Terre australe IX
Indian Ocean
Book Display I
Apendice - Lamina 15

Maps

Map Name
Cosmographie Universelle - Neuve Espagne [II] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Zambezia and Surrounding Regions (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mer rouge et golfe persique (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre du Perou [II] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Holland (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Grande et Petite Jave [I] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Quatrieme Projection (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Southeastern South America, Straits of Magellan (1547)
Miller Atlas - Northeastern Atlantic Ocean and Northern Europe (1519)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe meridionale et Afrique du nord-ouest [II] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - North Atlantic (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Cities, Ports ... in Portugal, Spain, Brazil, and Rio de la Plata (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Floride, Canada et Labrador (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports in the West Indies (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique orientale [I] (1555)
Miller Atlas - The Mediterranean Sea (1519)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [III] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [V] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique meridionale (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre du Perou [I] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Pourtour de la mer noire [II] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - World (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe meridionale et Afrique du nord-ouest [I] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports, Islands, and Straits of the Red Sea, East Asia, and Philippines (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - South Atlantic (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [IX] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Floride, Terre-Neuve et Labrador (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Deuxieme Projection (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports in Italy and Malta (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports in Mexico, West Coast (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mer de l'Inde orientale [I] (1555)
Miller Atlas - Southwestern Atlantic Ocean with Brazil (1519)
Vallard Atlas - North America, East Coast (1547)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports and Islands on the Coasts of Peru and Chile (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Chart of the Mediterranean Sea (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Chart of Ceylon (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique occidentale [II] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique orientale [II] (1555)
Miller Atlas - China Sea with the Moluccas (1519)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique du Nord-ouest (1555)
Catalan Atlas - Leafs 5 & 6 (1375)
Cosmographie Universelle - Royaume de Ginganton (1555)
Miller Atlas - North Atlantic Ocean (1519)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Mediterranean Sea (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [VII] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Chart of the Mouth of the Para, Curupa, and Amazon Rivers (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Neuve Espagne [III] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Southeast Africa (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Grande et Petite Jave [II] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Europe and Northern Africa (1547)
Miller Atlas - Northern Indian Ocean with Arabia and India (1519)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mer de l'Inde orientale [II] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Northeastern South America (1547)
Vallard Atlas - La Java (1547)
Vallard Atlas - Arabian Sea, Red Sea, and Persian Gulf (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique occidentale [I] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Ocean indien et mer rouge (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Northern Europe (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego (1690 Spanish Insert) (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [II] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Neuve Espagne [I] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Sixieme Projection (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Terra Java (1547)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - South Pacific (1630)
Catalan Atlas - Leafs 7 & 8 (1375)
Vallard Atlas - Aegean Sea (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Premiere Projection (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Terra Java (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe septentrionale et Groenland [II] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Pourtour de la mer noire [I] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Atlantic Ocean with coast of Africa and Brazil (1547)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Asia (1630)
Miller Atlas - Southern Indian Ocean with Insulindia on the Left, and Madagascar on the Right (1519)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [VI] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Atlantique sud (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [I] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Europe and Northern Africa (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe occidentale (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports, Islands, and Cities on the Coast of Africa and India (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Cities, Ports, and Islands in East Africa, Asia, and the Coast of India (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [IV] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Northwest Africa (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mer de l'Inde orientale et des Moluques (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [X] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Inde orientale (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre-Neuve, Europe et Barbarie (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe meridionale et orientale (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Troisieme Projection (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe centrale et meridionale (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Partie des canibales (1555)
Miller Atlas - Circular World Map of the Portuguese Hemisphere (1519)
Vallard Atlas - Western Europe and northwestern Africa (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [VIII] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Adriatic Sea (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mediterranee orientale et Moyen-Orient (1555)

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