Thomas Aquinas

On the Ranks of Angels and Demons

Paleography Exercise: Initials

In the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, initials served as navigational aids through manuscripts, but they were added in a separate stage of the production process. Unlike majuscules, which were written at the same time as the text, initials were typically added after the text was copied, like rubrication. For a particular manuscript, one person may have served as the scribe, rubricator, and artist. But generally, those roles were divided among individuals.

Red lead was often used to create colored titles or highlights in manuscripts. A Latin term for red is "ruber" which led to our word "rubrication."
At right is a good manuscript example that shows that initials were meant to be supplied after the text was copied. The page was supposed to display an "F" but the letter was never written. Notice how the scribe left room for it.

Austin, University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, HRC 115 folio 22r, http://www.digital-scriptorium.org

          

Providing initials and rubrication served the reader by indicating where breaks occurred and how important they were. The fancier the initial, the bigger the break. Thus the fanciest initial in a work appears at its beginning, and within the work, lesser initials might mark chapter breaks. So initials, like angels, can be ranked.

Even rubrication can mark different kinds of breaks. Below is an example of simple rubrication. It was often used to indicate where paragraphs begin. Thus the first word in this sentence stands out because it has a red highlight.

Below are other types of rubrication. In the manuscript on the left, entire letters are painted red, and the large "E" has globular decorations. In the manuscript on the right, a variety of ink colors are used. (You can click the manuscript examples below to see larger images.)

Parker Library MS 475, fol. 27v, by permission of the Master and Fellows
of Corpus Christi College.

Parker Library MS 3, fol. 100v, by permission of the Master and Fellows
of Corpus Christi College.

In the late twelfth century, flourished initials started to appear in manuscripts. This means the initials were adorned with colored, curving lines. An example of simple flourishes is shown on the left below. On the right is a more elaborate flourished initial, called a littera duplex. A littera duplex has two main colors and is sometimes called a "puzzle letter" or a "jigsaw letter" because the colored areas interlock.

Parker Library MS 51, p. 125, by permission of the Master and Fellows
of Corpus Christi College.

Parker Library MS 314, fol. 70r, by permission of the Master and Fellows
of Corpus Christi College.

Exercise: Here are some simple rubricated initials and flourished initials. Which ones are flourished?

Illumination is the process of decorating a manuscript with shining gold or silver, which reflect light. Below, the example on the left shows a dentelle initial, which is a gold letter on a colored background. The example on the right is a foliate initial, which means it was painted on a gold background.

MS 0377, fol. 57, by permission of Stanford Special Collections.

Parker Library MS 10, fol. 12r, by permission of the Master and Fellows
of Corpus Christi College.

The most important sections of manuscripts were sometimes marked by historiated initials, which had pictures that related to the text. Here are two examples.

Parker Library MS 2II, fol. 220r, by permission of the Master and Fellows
of Corpus Christi College.

Parker Library MS 13, fol. 2r, by permission of the Master and Fellows
of Corpus Christi College.

Exercise: Match the examples with their types. Choose the correct number from each dropdown menu.

1.   Littera duplex
2.   Dentelle initial
3.   Foliate initial
4.   Historiated initial

Exercise: Each large initial below begins a section of a manuscript. Type the first word of that section.


Challenge: Please type this phrase, from Aquinas' Opuscula::



for help, look at this


Images

Parker Library images from MSS. 3, 10, 13, 35, 49, 51, 314, 475, used with permission of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.