Let’s look at some of your writing system inventions!
Medieval Times: Illuminated Manuscripts and the Gutenburg Bible
Notes from the slideshow during class.
The “Dark Ages”
The Dark Ages were a period of time from roughly the 5th through the 13th centuries, in which we have a scarcity of historical or other written records. It follows the fall of the Roman Empire and precedes the Italian Renaissance.
This term–Dark Ages–has fallen out of favor and replaced with “Middle Ages”, as we have discovered more and more accomplishments that occurred at this time.
Illuminated manuscripts were beautifully hand-drawn books that featured lettering by a copyist and artwork by an illustrator. The text was written on velum, made from animal skins. The gold leaf used the page made it fairly glow, giving it the moniker illuminated.
Copyists and Illuminators
Monks working in scriptoriums were tasked with sitting day after day and copying text from an original source into a new manuscript. These men were known as copyists.
Illuminators had the job of adding ornament, images, and color to support the text. Illustrators do this task today.
Evolution of Lettering
As book design progressed, lettering progressed. Because copying was very laborious and time-consuming, simpler designs were created that could be executed faster.
Uncials may have been invented by the Ancient Greeks. They are closely identified with the Church. Their roundness is easier to create than square or rustic letters.
Caroline Miniscules are the true forerunner of modern day lowercase letters. Charlemagne (AKA Charles the Great) was emperor of the Holy Roman Empire circa 800AD. He ordered the creation of this style to unify writing systems throughout Europe.
Before the Caroline Miniscules were developed, several regional styles of lettering were being produced in monasteries all over Europe.
The Book of Kells
The Book of Kells is a manuscript of Latin gospel from Ireland in about 800AD. Its ornamentation exceeded most other illuminated manuscripts in extravagance and complexity.
The Lindisfarne Gospels is an illuminated manuscript from Lindisfarne, in Northern England. It features regional writing styles, Celtic crosses, and elaborate initial caps.
Codex Aureus is Latin for golden book. Several gospel books from the 9th through 11th centuries were so heavily illuminated with gold leaf, that they were referred to as the Codex Aureus.
Illuminated Quran and Ottoman Illumination
Illumination was not limited to Christian texts. Styles of Islamic and Christian motifs mingled in the Quran and other decorated texts of the middle ages on. With the fall of the Spanish Peninsula to the Moors in 711, Islamic design had a great influence on book design in Spain.
A Guide for the Perplexed
A Guide for the Perplexed was written by a Jewish philosopher and physician who was born and educated in Islamic Cordoba in Spain. It features Hebrew lettering and Arabian-style decoration.
Story Artworks, Pages from Books
Folio illustrations featured in the slideshow include:
- Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
- The Fourth Angel
- Douce Apocalypse
- Ormesby Psalter
- Liber regimenti acutorum, a medical text
- The Canterbury Tales
Emerging Literacy in Germany
By the 1400s, demand for books in Germany had become insatiable. An emerging literate middle class and students in rapidly expanding universities created a demand for books.
Books were expensive because they were produced by hand.The value of a book was equal to the value of a farm or vineyard.
The value of a book was equal to the value of a farm or vineyard. Something had to happen. And this something was woodblock printing—and the skills for making paper coming over from China.
Woodblock printing is a technique for printing text, images or patterns using blocks of wood. The flat surface of the wood is carved and inked. A sheet of paper is laid over the inked block and pressed down. This leaves an inked print in reverse on the paper. Several blocks can be used in conjunction to make a multi-color design.
Topics covered in the slideshow:
- The Technology of Movable Type on a Printing Press
- The Gutenburg Bible
- Fust and Schoeffer
- Gutenburg Reemerges
Meanwhile, In China…
Let’s back up a bit and witness the origin of paper and printing techniques in greater detail.
The Chinese people invented paper in 104 AD.
Cai Lun – Paper Industry International Hall of Fame [2:35]
And Bi Sheng invented movable type in the 9th century AD.
Wooden movable-type printing of China [9:49]
Now Back To Europe…
Making Manuscripts [Getty Museum, 6:13]
Many gorgeous illuminated manuscripts can be viewed at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
85 Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press [14:21]
Frequently in illuminated manuscripts, the initial letter of a page is capitalized, greatly enlarged, and illustrated.
When the letter contains figures—humans or animals—that are decorative only, it is called an inhabited initial.
When there is an identifiable figure or specific scene, it is referred to as a historiated initial.
This set of initial cap designs is from 16th century Italy.
For Further Study
If you are interested in more of the specifics of casting and setting letterpress type, check out these videos.