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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 I
Terre du Perou I
Ptolemy's Map of Asia - XI
Pourtour de la mer noire
Plans of Ports in Mexico, West Coast
Trat: 1 - Lamina 4
Cinquieme Projection
Book Display II
Back Cover
Title Page
Southeast Africa
Plans of Ports in Italy and Malta
Terre australe IX
Trat: 1 - Lamina 10
Terre du Perou II
Arabian Sea, Red Sea, and Persian Gulf.
Enssuyt le Regime et Gouvernement du Solleil
Manuscript 512 Inscriptions Reproduction (1839)
Trat: 1 - Lamina 14
Europe septentrionale et Groenland II
Ptolemy's Map of Europe - XI
Mediterranee orientale et Moyen-Orient
Ptolemy's Map of Asia - I
Ptolemy's Map of Africa - I
Book Display II
Ptolemy's Map of Asia - X
North Atlantic
Trat: 2 - Lamina 11
Aegean Sea
Europe and Northern Africa
Ptolemy's Map of Africa - II
Europe meridionale et Afrique du nord-ouest I
Chart of the Mouth of the Para, Curupa, and Amazon Rivers
Title Page
Terre australe II
Book Display I
Trat: 1 - Lamina 24
Book Display III
Exploration Fawcett (1953)
Ptolemy's Map of Europe - X
Book Display IV
Percy Fawcett's Basalt Idol
Rose des vents
Premiere Projection
Apendice - Lamina 8
Front Cover
Magnus Sinus
Europe meridionale et orientale
South Atlantic
Inserted Spanish Letter [III]
Ptolemy's Map of Asia - VI
Trat: 3 - Lamina 1
Title Page
Terre de Floride - Partie de la mer oceanne
Book Display IV
Ptolemy's Map of Asia - V
Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego
Western Europe and Northwestern Africa
Europe septentrionale et Groenland I
Trat: 1 - Lamina 30
Trat: 1 - Lamina 15
Title Page
Northern Europe
Terre-Neuve, Europe et Barbarie
Trat: 1 - Lamina 22
Terra Java
Terre australe I
Neuve Espagne II
Front Cover
Front Cover
Mediterranean Sea
Neuve Espagne III
Trat: 1 - Lamina 31
North America, East Coast
Trat: 2 - Lamina 6
Trat: 2 - Lamina 9
Title Page
Plans of Ports in the West Indies
Chart of Ceylon
Apendice - Lamina 6
La Java
Trat: 1 - Lamina 27
Trat: 1 - Lamina 21
Afrique orientale II
Asia
North Atlantic Ocean
Chart of the Mediterranean Sea
Trat: 1 - Lamina 29
Ptolemy's Map of Europe - V
Book Display IV
Terre australe VII
Photograph of Colonel Percy Herrison Fawcett in 1911
Ocean indien et mer rouge
Atlantique sud
Apendice - Lamina 3
Southern Africa and southwest Indian Ocean

Maps

Map Name
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports and Islands on the Coasts of Peru and Chile (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mediterranee orientale et Moyen-Orient (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Premiere Projection (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre-Neuve, Europe et Barbarie (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [VII] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Floride, Canada et Labrador (1555)
Miller Atlas - North Atlantic Ocean (1519)
Vallard Atlas - Aegean Sea (1547)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Southeast Africa (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - South Pacific (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [V] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mer de l'Inde orientale [I] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Pourtour de la mer noire [I] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Terra Java (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [III] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Atlantic Ocean with coast of Africa and Brazil (1547)
Miller Atlas - Southwestern Atlantic Ocean with Brazil (1519)
Vallard Atlas - Western Europe and northwestern Africa (1547)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - North Pacific (1630)
Miller Atlas - Northeastern Atlantic Ocean and Northern Europe (1519)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports, Islands, and Straits of the Red Sea, East Asia, and Philippines (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Sixieme Projection (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Cities, Ports ... in Portugal, Spain, Brazil, and Rio de la Plata (1630)
Catalan Atlas - Leafs 9 & 10 (1375)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre du Perou [III] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports in Mexico, West Coast (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [VI] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique occidentale [II] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique orientale [II] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre de Floride - Partie de la mer oceanne (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Mediterranean Sea (1630)
Vallard Atlas - Adriatic Sea (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe meridionale et Afrique du nord-ouest [I] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Neuve Espagne [III] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Grande et Petite Jave [I] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe occidentale (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [VIII] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mer rouge et golfe persique (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Northwest Africa (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe septentrionale et Groenland [II] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Europe and Northern Africa (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [X] (1555)
Miller Atlas - Northern Indian Ocean with Arabia and India (1519)
Cosmographie Universelle - Neuve Espagne [II] (1555)
Miller Atlas - Central Atlantic Ocean with the Azores (1519)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - North Atlantic (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Quatrieme Projection (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego (1630)
Miller Atlas - Magnus Sinus (1519)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports, Islands, and Cities on the Coast of Africa and India (1630)
Vallard Atlas - Northeastern South America (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Pourtour de la mer noire [II] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Partie des canibales (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Chart of the Mediterranean Sea (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Grande et Petite Jave [II] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Southeastern South America, Straits of Magellan (1547)
Miller Atlas - Circular World Map of the Portuguese Hemisphere (1519)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mer de l'Inde orientale et des Moluques (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Europe and Northern Africa (1547)
Catalan Atlas - Leafs 5 & 6 (1375)
Cosmographie Universelle - Cinquieme Projection (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Deuxieme Projection (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [I] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Arabian Sea, Red Sea, and Persian Gulf (1547)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports in the West Indies (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [II] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Asia (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique du Nord-ouest (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe meridionale et orientale (1555)
Vallard Atlas - La Java (1547)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Indian Ocean (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe centrale et meridionale (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique meridionale (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Chart of Ceylon (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego (1690 Spanish Insert) (1630)
Vallard Atlas - Terra Java (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre du Perou [II] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [IV] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre du Perou [I] (1555)
Miller Atlas - Southern Indian Ocean with Insulindia on the Left, and Madagascar on the Right (1519)
Vallard Atlas - North America, East Coast (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mer de l'Inde orientale [II] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports in Italy and Malta (1630)
Catalan Atlas - Leafs 11 & 12 (1375)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique orientale [I] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Northern Europe (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Holland (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Chart of the Mouth of the Para, Curupa, and Amazon Rivers (1630)
Catalan Atlas - Leafs 7 & 8 (1375)
Vallard Atlas - Southern Africa and Southwest Indian Ocean (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Atlantique sud (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Troisieme Projection (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - South Atlantic (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - World (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe meridionale et Afrique du nord-ouest [II] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Defaite de Databalipa (1555)

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