Book Through Ages

Today books are made with the aid of couputer software that can lay out pages, set type, insert illustrations. In the Meddle Ages before invention of printing in 1450 by Johannes Gutenberg, books were made by hand one at the time with ink, pen, brush, paint, covered in engraved wooden, metal or ivory panels which depict scenes from Bible, New Testament or Golden Book.

Panel depicts  'Annunciation, Nativity and Adoration of the Magi'
Carolingian artist, 890, British Museum, London, UK.
To see the full size click the image.
The image will appear in the new window. Medieval books were usually made by monks and nuns in a workshop called scriptorium which was usually within a monastery or a convent. As the demand for book increased, lay professionals join the work and great-rulers set up palace workshops supervised by well-known scholars. Books were written on animal skin - either vellum, which was fine and soft, or parchment, which was heavier and shinier. Paper did not come into common use until early XV century. Small book required the skin of more than 150 calves, a great treasure considering the value of one cow at the time. The skins were cleaned, stripped of hair, and scraped to create a smooth surface that would absorb metallic inks and water based paints, which themselves required time and experience to prepare. Many pigments particularly blues (indigo, ultramarine) and greens had to be imported from the east and were as costly as semiprecious stones. In early manuscripts, bright yellow was used to suggest gold. Later manuscripts were decorated with real gold leaf or about 100 years later gold paint. In the specialized workshops work on a book was divided between a scribe who copied the text and one or more artists, who did illustrations, large initials, arabesques and other decorations. More often, especially in the early Middle Ages scribe and artist was the same person. Although most books were produced anonymously, scribes and illustrators began to sign their book and provide a
little background information on the page called the colophon.

Colophon depicts 'The Virgin Mary, followed by Joseph 
presents baby Jesus to Symeon accross the altrar' from 'Book of Psalms' by Theodore, 1066, British Museum, London, UK.
To see the full size click the image.
The image will appear in the new window. Colophon description of this page translated into English:
"This volume of the divine Psalms was completed in the month of February of the fourth in diction of the year 6574 (1066) on the order of the divinely inspired father and synkellos Michael, Abbot of the all-holy and all-blessed monastery.
Written and written in gold by the hand of Theodore the protopresbyter of the monastery and scribe from Caesaria, whose shepherd and luminary was the glorious and brilliant Basil, who was truly great and was also so named. All glory and power are due to Christ."

Another scribe (now anonymous) form the end of XII century went further and took the opportunity to warn the reader
"Or reader turns the leaves gently and keep your fingers away from the letters, as the hailstorm ruins the harvest, so does the injurious reader destroy the book and the writing."

Because of rareness and a high price of manuscripts in the Middle Ages, they were the best gift for Queens, Kings, princes, church and lay dignitaries handed during official meetings and audiences. Many manuscripts were also sent as a gift by special courier for a such occasions like marriages, coronations, birthdays, ordinations, and even funerals. They were usually commissioned in lay workshop.

The Belles Heures of Jean of France, Duke of Berry, 1405–1408/1409
Pol, Jean, and Herman de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France, by 1399–1416)
French; Made in Paris
Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum; Overall: 9 3/8 x 6 11/16 in. (23.8 x 17 cm)
Musee National du Mouen Age, Paris, France
To see the full size click the image.
The image will appear in the new window. This a private devotional book, completed by 1408 or 1409, probably in Paris, "The Belles Heures," was the first of several sumptuous manuscripts commissioned by the duke of Berry from the Limbourg brothers, Pol, Jean, and Herman. It is perhaps the only virtually complete and stylistically consistent prayer book to survive from the duke's extraordinary library. The richly illustrated text reflects the duke's personal interests. Using a luminous palette, the artists blended an intimate Northern vision of nature with Italianate modes of figural articulation. The keen interest in the natural world and the naturalistic means of representing it, so striking in ninety-four full-page and fifty-four column illuminations, foreshadow the work of Jan van Eyck and the ensuing generations of outstanding fifteenth-century painters in the South Netherlands.

As well as other masterpieces, this book also has changed hands several times starting from its first owner: Jean, Duke of Berry, 1408–9; first included in his inventory (1413–d. 1416); through Yolande of Aragon, Queen of Sicily and Duchess of Anjou (purchased in 1416 from the Duke's estate–d. 1443); through Baron d'Ailly (sold 1880); through Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Paris, France (acquired 1880, his inventory no. 18); through Baron Maurice de Rothschild, Geneva, Switzerland (acquired 1936, his inventory no. 7); [Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York] to end up in the Museum of Art in New York, USA where it can be seen.

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