...in which I share some of my favorite medieval research resources and methods for the benefit of others interested in also writing about the Middle Ages

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Two More Books on Medieval Books

Let me share with you two more resource books I used for the subject of illuminated manuscripts for my medieval romance, Illuminations of the Heart, and then we’ll move on to another subject.

First was a very handy little book called The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting, by Daniel V. Thompson. This book covers a tremendous amount of highly useful and fascinating material on the subject of medieval illumination and other kinds of medieval painting.

If you’re not an artist, the chapter headings can be a little confusing. Chapter 1, for instance, is entitled, “Carriers and Grounds”. However, I merely jumped straight to the subheadings in the chapter of particular interest to myself and my story: “The importance of book making”; “Parchment making”; “Vellum”; “Qualities of parchment”; and “Preparations”. These sections (which I heavily highlighted) taught me in detail how parchment was made, the difference between common parchment and vellum (“‘vellum’ means calf skin and nothing else, while parchment is a general term applicable to any kind of animal skin, including vellum”); and how parchment was prepared for the painting of illuminations. These sub-sections are followed by others not pertinent to my story, though they may be pertinent to yours, such as painting on wood, the use of gesso, creating a polyptych (multiple panels set in wood frames), and painting on canvas or plaster.

The second two sections that provide an absolute treasure trove for a researcher of medieval illuminations, are chapters 3 and 4, which cover the wide variety of pigments available to the illuminator and how these pigments were derived, breaking them down into their individual color groups: black, brown, white, red, blue, purple, green, and yellow (Chapter 3), followed by a lengthy section of colors derived from metals, with an emphasis on creating the gold gilding (Chapter 4) that truly gave manuscripts the brilliant, reflective “light” that “illuminated” their pages.

If only for this extensive and detailed section on pigments alone, The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting is well worth having in your library of resource books!

Finally we come to The Medieval Book, by Barbara A. Shailor. While similar in format to the research books I cited in an earlier post about illuminated manuscripts (i.e., lacking a useful index, but filled with helpful marginal headings to help you quickly navigate to the particular information essential to the story you are writing, as well as being liberally sprinkled with reproductions and photographs), The Medieval Book differs from those earlier sources by focusing on what it’s title suggests: books in general, rather than illuminated manuscripts in particular.

Not that illuminated manuscripts are neglected in this volume. They are indeed discussed, as any comprehensive resource on medieval books would require. But Shailor spends much more of her time describing how medieval books were made. Subjects covered include: pricking and ruling in preparation for the text to be added; ruling with sylus and crayon (the latter an innovation of 12th Century Europe outside of Itay); pattern books (mentioned in a previous post, and an important plot device in Illuminations of the Heart); the various styles of medieval scripts used by the scribes who created the text of the books; borders and miniatures (again, a nice section on illuminations); followed by how medieval books were actually put together (sewn, board attachments, pasteboards, headbands and edges, decorative stamping of the covers, and much, much more!).

These are by no means the only resource books available for information on medieval illumination, painting or book making. They are simply the titles I used in researching these subjects for Illuminations of the Heart. If you see comments listed on any of my posts, you’ll want to take time to check them out, as readers often share additional titles they’ve found useful on these subjects, thus widening all of our research knowledge on this wonderful and fascinating subject!

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