Posts Tagged ‘paleography’

On many of the older manuscripts I work with (13th, 14th century), there’s a certain kind of paper and certain kind of ink that one sees frequently, especially in legal or royal documents. The paper seems thinner, browner, and more brittle than usual, but what makes this particular combination unique is the ink. I don’t think the paper itself was initially so fragile, but after a couple of hundred years with this particular ink on it, it can’t help but start to disintegrate.

After a bit of googling, it seems likely that the kind of ink I’m seeing is called iron gall ink. This ink was particularly favored in legal documents since it couldn’t be erased or washed off. However, the iron erodes the paper slowly where the ink was. For an example, here’s a picture from the above linked website:

It is, of course, a shame that the manuscripts disintegrate in such a way. However, especially with particularly loopy handwriting (which one could probably not read to begin with), the designs the corroding ink leaves behind look really lovely, often like lace, or a snowflake.

Which brings me to another unique kind of manuscript art, which uses the destruction of manuscripts to create some nice art: the collage. Apparently it was somewhat popular during the Victorian era to buy up illuminated manuscripts, cut them up, and glue them back together to create a very colorful collage. A bit of a sacrilege, but beautiful!


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Cataloging documents, compared to codices, is not overly complicated in itself. The worst part is generally the secretarial hands are nearly completely illegible to anyone who is not the scribe. The handwriting is crisp and clear, the ink well-preserved on the vellum, and you can almost see some 14th century Italian scribe whipping through this notarial document. If you could only figure out his abbreviations and cursive enough to figure out what is actually going on (I think it might involve property. Possibly cattle).

Here’s an example of this kind of documentary script. This one is a 13th century charter of the abbey of Wilton, in a chancery hand:


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Lately my life has been completely engulfed by the search for an apartment. For the past few months I’ve been looking for a good place, with a reputable company, near to the places I need it to be, etc. Ideally, I’d like to live in Center City, as it’s the most convenient, and possibly one of the safer options for two young females to live in. For awhile, this seemed nearly impossible – the places I saw (all for over $1500) were by far sub-par. There are definitely some glorified slums in Center City. I also saw a miniature townhouse which, while adorable for a doll house, would have been impossible (I barely fit up the stairs, and I can only imagine how my suitcase would fare, let alone a wardrobe). As the month nears its end and I see fewer July rentals and more August ones show up, I had been beginning to fear that I would never find a nice two-bedroom for under $2,000 a month in Center City. However, this week I found a place I love, and am beginning to court this apartment and company. Hopefully good things will come of it!

Back in Manuscript Land, I’m getting acquainted with the beautiful but totally illegible handwriting of the 15th century. Not only do all the letters seem to blur into one endless sequence of m’s (minims are forever fun), but they use an endless amount of abbreviations, most of which are not standard! How am I supposed to know what “an” with a flourish over it means? Especially when I cannot decipher the word’s neighbors! This is all incredibly time-consuming and frustrating, yet it only makes me more determined to get myself some paleography courses (such as the fantastic one online here). These people had something to say and wrote it down and, by God, I will figure out what it is they had to say no matter how mundane it may be.

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