Showing a Cramped, Cold Scribe at Work


(France, mid-13th century). 153 x 103 mm. (6 x 4"). Triple column, 50 lines in a fine gothic pearl script.

Numerous one-line initials in red or blue, and AN HISTORIATED INITIAL WITH A VERY LONG TAIL, THE CAPITAL SHOWING A SCRIBE AT A WRITING TABLE, the initial painted blue and pink and embellished with gold dots, an additional, smaller extension at the top of the initial, terminating with the head of a small white beast. Decorative extension at the top slightly trimmed, vellum with minor abrasions and rather thin in places (resulting in some tiny holes), left margin of recto small (with one stitching channel just cutting into the initial's descender, other trivial imperfections, but still a very presentable leaf, with no fatal condition issues.

Historiated initials like this one are one of our chief sources of understanding the ways that scribes worked in the Middle Ages. Here we see the manuscript pinned to the usual slanted writing surface, as the scribe uses his knife to scrape off an error. If he looks uncomfortable in his crouched position and cold even in his substantial cloak, it's because the scribe was accurately portraying the conditions of his working environment.

Keywords: Bibles