Today we’re going to take a little break from the knitting talk, because I have to share this with you. It is just too cool. Today, my Medieval Art History class got to go to the rare books library at my school and look at super old books! It’s a humbling sort of reality check to look at a book and think, “this is older than the country in which I live.”
We started out by looking at a scroll of the book of Esther(which you can’t really see. It’s at the top of the picture.). The scroll was made out of calfskin, which I was aware of as a practice, but never really thought about it until I saw it in person. It’s a lot thinner than I thought it would be. Then we moved on to the codex, that giant book. I can safely say that was the biggest book I had ever seen. and I work in a library! It also had calfskin pages, but they were bound together and sewn into the book. The curator/art historian gave us a mini book binding lesson, which was actually really interesting. It explained a lot. For instance, why fancy books always have little horizontal ridges going down their spines. The ridges are actually ties that bind the covers together, and the pages are sewn to those ties. Then the whole thing is covered in leather. The book below is a good example, even if the picture is a little blurry (sorry! I was rushing. I was already late for work.)
My favorite part of the lesson was the page with the historiated initial.
It was just a single page, (The seller had sold the book piecemeal, which is a tragedy.) but it had a great example of that massive, illustrated initial that we’ve all become familiar with. This one was also a great example of the use of gold leaf. The best part is the close up.
In the middle of the letter there is a little picture (which is why is is called a historiated initial, because the illustration is actually a part of the text.). This one represents the Ascension of Christ while Mary and (I think) John (Don’t quote me on it.) look on. The level of detail is just amazing. The little history major inside of me gets all excited to think that some person sat down and put so much effort into that little picture, and that now we still look at it hundreds of years later. I really enjoyed being able to look at some of these thing in the flesh (sometimes literally in the cow flesh) instead of just seeing pictures in my textbooks. It made it so much more personal and interesting. I just reminds me how lucky I am to be able to go to a school and look at these things with other people who appreciate history.