Manuscripts Illuminated

Over the course of the Spring 2014 semester, students in Renee Wolcott’s ARTC464 learned about scribes, printers, binders, papermakers—and also became them—to get firsthand experience with the conservation issues that arise from early printed and manuscript books.  Students’ assignments included illuminating their own manuscript inspired by holdings in Special Collections and writing a conservation report for a book in Special Collections.

Special Collections holds several illuminated manuscripts and manuscript leaves. During one Special Collections session, I showed the students items from MSS 474 Frank W. Tober manuscript and early printed leaf collection and several items  from the MSS 95 collection, including the 16th-century Book of Hours (Use of Noyon):


We examined the effects of iron gall ink on parchment and paper; the qualities of parchment (Renee showed us where the “armpit” of the animal had been); illumination; lettering styles; lining the parchment; and the contexts in which manuscripts were created and used.

For their assignment, Maddie, Gabriel, Becca, Ester, and Jackie each chose a manuscript that inspired them—whether it was the lettering, the illumination, or the general content—from which to create their own illuminated manuscript. On real parchment. Using their own ink and pigments and gold they mixed. They worked like real scribes, having to plan out their spacing and designs beforehand. Mistakes get scraped away with a knife or scalpel and quickly before the ink dries too much.

Later in the semester, the students showed the fruits of their scribal labors:







Maureen Cech

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