On the Ranks of Angels and Demons
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.
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 Fellowsof Corpus Christi College.
Parker Library MS 3, fol. 100v, by permission of the Master and Fellowsof Corpus Christi College.
Parker Library MS 51, p. 125, by permission of the Master and Fellowsof Corpus Christi College.
Parker Library MS 314, fol. 70r, by permission of the Master and Fellowsof 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 Fellowsof Corpus Christi College.
Parker Library MS 2II, fol. 220r, by permission of the Master and Fellowsof Corpus Christi College.
Parker Library MS 13, fol. 2r, by permission of the Master and Fellowsof 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
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.