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Monday, August 08, 2016

"The elation of colour"

I like this little article including new research into the making of medieval manuscripts. Here's a clip:
The contents of a scriptorium’s cabinet have something of the ‘eye of bat, toe of frog’ about them. The parchment pages are goatskin, sheepskin, calfskin, split and pared down to tissue thinness, or they are ‘uterine vellum’ — the skin of aborted calves. Cuttlefish bones scraped the parchment smooth. Quills were cut from goose, swan or crow feathers. Hair from squirrels’ tails made the finest brushes. Gold leaf could be polished to brilliance with a ‘dog’s tooth’ — a shard of agate.
And another taste of the past:
The Roman taxonomer Pliny, a collector of both natural histories and far-fetched fables, writes of a red pigment called ‘dragon’s blood’ derived from the mingled bloods of a battling dragon and elephant. While most pigments could be had from the town apothecary, a scribe wanting to get his hands on dragon’s blood would have to wait for a defeated dragon to be crushed beneath a wounded elephant. Spoilsport art historians have since identified ‘dragon’s blood’ as the sap of the East Asian rattan palm tree. 
Read the rest! You'll find illuminated books to be even stranger and more beautiful than before.


  1. although the colors are wonderful, i'm especially taken by the drawing styles... that cat with the mouse is priceless, the way it's eyes veer to one side while clutching the little mousie(with toes splayed), alert to anything coming to take away it's catch...

    1. The marginalia is so charming... I'm fond of looking at medieval art of all sorts--again went through the Met's medieval rooms last year and enjoyed myself very much.

  2. I own a pile of Illuminated Manuscript books. They are a passion of mine. I have books on Medeival Bibles, of course the Kells (which I had to see in person-so exciting!) and also Bestiaries. My favorite are the ones illustrating Apocalyptic scenes.

    1. Yes, they are wondrous. I do have a few reproduction books and museum books about medieval illumination.

      Unfortunately, when I was in Dublin, The Book of Kells had been removed (for conservation, maybe? I don't recall.) Very sad.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.