The Making of: Pages

When the medieval scribe (?) was planning to make a manuscript he had to make several decisions. Depending on the length of his text(s), he had to decide how big the leaves (?) should be, and how many leaves he wanted to use. However, he could cheat a little. By writing very small, he could fit a long text in an ordinary-sized manuscript, and by writing bigger than usual a more voluminous codex could be filled up with a short text. It all depended on what the manuscript was meant to be used for. If it was intended to be a portable book for a traveler, then it had to be of a modest size and weight. But if a choir needed it as a song book that could be read by all its members while singing, it had to be big.

Before the scribe could start writing, the leaves had to be ruled. In the left and right margins of his bifolium (?) he pricked little holes at regular intervals. Between these prickings he laid a ruler and with drypoint (?) or leadpoint (?) he drew the lines. He also had to choose how many columns of text he wanted, and had to make another set of prickings for them in the upper and lower margins.

Private Collection (by courtesy of the owner): leadpoint ruling

Private Collection (by courtesy of the owner): leadpoint ruling

After ruling the pages horizontally and vertically the scribe had to make a few other decisions before he was ready to start writing the text. For the layout of a manuscript page he had to consider several things, most importantly of all which script to use and whether to decorate the page. If he wanted decorations, he would to leave some space for them, because they were applied only after the copying of the text was done. The decoration was often executed by other craftsmen: the rubricator (?) who filled in the ‘reds’ such as headings and simple initials, and the illuminator (?) who painted the miniatures (?) and the important initials. The scribe could help his colleagues by writing short instructions in leadpoint in the open spaces (e.g. a small letter ‘A’ where an initial ‘A’ was needed).

One last thing the scribe had to take care of was keeping the bifolia and the gatherings (?) in the right order. He could do this by giving each gathering a letter (a, b, c, etc.), and by numbering each leaf in the gathering with roman numerals (a i, a ii, a iii, etc.). Numbering the first half of the leaves this way was already enough, since the second half of the leaves was connected to the first half. Another way of keeping the gatherings in the right order is by adding the first word of the next gathering as a catchword (?) in the lower margin of the last leaf of the previous gathering.

To read more about the making of medieval books, click here.

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