In the Manuscript Margins: Notes and Decorations by Scribes, Illuminators, and Readers

The display cases in the Vatican Film Library hold a specially-themed exhibit for the fall semester: In the Manuscript Margins: Notes and Decoration by Scribes, Illuminators, and Readers. This exhibition features a number of our most important manuscripts and leaves, focusing on the manuscript margins and some of the marks—words and images—that are located there. What we call the margins are the blank spaces left around or between text columns, which are handy places to add accessory texts or decoration and also provide space for scribes and readers to make corrections or notes. The traditional format of the manuscript page, with its widest margins at the outer and lower sides, was certainly devised with this in mind.

There are two different aspects of marginal additions, each treated in a separate case. Case 1 is devoted to marks and text added by scribes and readers during the production or use of the manuscript. In a thirteenth-century English Bible (MS 56), for example, the margins bear corrections by the scribe, as well as notes made by a reader, proving that this Bible was studied closely.

margins-2

Saint Louis University, Pius XII Memorial Library,

Special Collections, VFL MS 56

Bible (Proverbs to Hebrews)

England, 1225–1250

An example with of a manuscript with planned commentary is a beautiful Qu’ran leaf (MS. 24a recto), whose main text is written in Arabic at center in black ink, and the commentary written in Persian in two places: between the lines in red, and diagonally in the surrounding margins in black ink.

 

margins-3

Saint Louis University, Pius XII Memorial Library,

Special Collections, VFL MS 24a recto

Annotated Qu’ran leaf

India, 17th–18th century

In Case 2 the focus is on marginal decoration executed by illuminators, usually exemplified by painted or penwork borders alongside the text, which often includes floral and zoomorphic motifs. A book of hours leaf (MS 35b verso) is decorated with a double vertical bar along the left side of the column, topped by a two-legged, winged dragon with a feathery hat.

 

 

 

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Saint Louis University, Pius XII Memorial Library,

Special Collections, VFL MS 35b verso

Book of hours leaf

France, Coutances, ca. 1400–1425

Also in Case 2 is a legal document (MS 33) granting a piece of land to a monastery by the knight Pierre le Jaire in 1267. The lower margin of the grant is turned up and held closed by a parchment tag from which dangles Pierre le Jaire’s armorial seal. The reason for turning up and pinning the bottom section of a document was to prevent unauthorized additions to the agreed-upon terms of the legal contract.

 

 

margins-5

Saint Louis University, Pius XII Memorial Library,

Special Collections, VFL MS 33

Deed

France, dated 1267

The exhibition runs from August 26, 2016 through 31 January 2017, and is free and open to the public, Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm. Curated by Susan L’Engle, Assistant Director of the Vatican Film Library.

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