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Chapter 13 - Model-Books

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2021

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Summary

Having discussed a variety of decoration styles in medieval manuscripts, the present chapter adds contextual information to the culture of decorating manuscripts. While decorators were creative individuals, they had some help in how to depict certain scenes or decorated letters. They could look these up in model-books, which appear to have been quite popular in the later Middle Ages. A true feast for the eye, these books are filled with drawings and paintings that were meant to show scribes and illuminators how to embellish letters, paint initials, or add large segments of decoration to the page. Within this tradition, two types of model-books can be distinguished. Some functioned as instruction manuals, providing detailed step-by-step instructions for artisans. Other modelbooks appear to have merely functioned as a source of inspiration: they present a wide array of shapes and drawings from which the artisan could take his or her pick.

The level of sophistication among surviving model-books varies considerably. On the lower end of the spectrum there are pattern books that merely show how to make enlarged letters with some minor flourishing. On the higher end, by contrast, there are copies with rich stand-alone designs and sophisticated historiated initials inhabited by figures and scenes. Evidently the requirements of artisans varied, and, by proxy, so did the taste of medieval readers, for whom these drawings were ultimately meant. It is this variation that makes model-books so fascinating, both as physical objects and as cultural artifacts. The following examples illuminate the breadth of the genre and the appeal of these medieval “supermodels.”

Plainly Decorated Letters

To start at the lower end of the spectrum, some model-books merely showed book artisans how to draw plain enlarged capitals, the most basic kind of decoration. The book opening seen in Figure 59 is from Gregorius Bock's Scribal Pattern Book, which provides instruction on both fronts. Produced in 1510– 1517, the first part of the small parchment book contains a series of alphabets in different scripts, some of which are clearly influenced by print typefaces (New Haven, Beinecke Library, Yale University, MS 439).

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Books Before Print , pp. 111 - 118
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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  • Model-Books
  • Erik Kwakkel
  • Book: Books Before Print
  • Online publication: 05 February 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781942401636.017
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  • Model-Books
  • Erik Kwakkel
  • Book: Books Before Print
  • Online publication: 05 February 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781942401636.017
Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Model-Books
  • Erik Kwakkel
  • Book: Books Before Print
  • Online publication: 05 February 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781942401636.017
Available formats
×