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Chain, Chest, Curse: Combating Book Theft in Medieval Times

Zutphen, “Librije” Chained Library (16th century) – Photo EK (more here)



Do you leave your e-reader or iPad on the table in Starbucks when you are called to pick up your cup of Joe? You’re probably not inclined to do this, because the object in question might be stolen. The medieval reader would nod his head approvingly, because book theft happened in his day too. In medieval times, however, the loss was much greater, given that the average price of a book – when purchased by an individual or community – was much higher. In fact, a more appropriate question would be whether you would leave the keys in the ignition of your car with the engine running when you enter Starbucks to order a coffee. Fortunately, the medieval reader had various strategies to combat book theft. Some of these appear a bit over the top to our modern eyes, while others seem not effective at all.

The least subtle but most effective way to keep your books safe…

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Location, Location: GPS in the Medieval Library

Leiden, Regionaal Archief, Kloosters 885 Inv. Nr. 208A (wall catalogue, 15th century) Source : https://www.flickr.com/photos/77326655@N04/7153179555


Books love to hide from us. While you were sure you put your current read on the kitchen table, it turns up next to your comfortable chair in the living room. As you handle more books at the same time, it becomes increasingly challenging to keep track of their location. In the Middle Ages it was even more difficult to locate a specific book. Unlike today, medieval books lacked a standard size, so you couldn’t really make neat piles – which sort of brings order to chaos. Finding a book was also made difficult by the fact that the spine title had not yet been invented.

So how did medieval readers locate books, especially when they owned a lot of them? The answer lies in a neat trick that resembles our modern GPS : a book was tagged with a unique identifier (a shelfmark) that was entered into a searchable database (a library catalogue), which could subsequently be consulted with a handheld device (a portable version of…

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Medieval Apps

Featured Image -- 8907


How about this for a truism: a book is a book, and something that is not a book is not a book. This post will knock your socks off if you are inclined to affirm this statement, because in medieval times a book could be so much more than that. As it turns out, tools were sometimes attached to manuscripts, such as a disk, dial or knob, or even a complete scientific instrument. Such ‘add-ons’ were usually mounted onto the page, extending the book’s primary function as an object that one reads, turning it into a piece of hardware.

Adding such tools was an invasive procedure that involved hacking into the wooden binding or cutting holes in pages. In spite of this, they were quite popular in the later Middle Ages, especially during the 15th century. This shows that they served a real purpose, adding value to the book’s contents: some clarified the text’s meaning, while others functioned as a…

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Embracing the Digital Future of Art Books

Source Full articleJames Cuno


Getty Publications has inaugurated a new series of open-access collection catalogues available online, as downloadable ebooks, and in print.

Getty Publications has just launched two born-digital collection catalogues exploring groups of ancient objects in the Museum’s collection: Ancient Terracottas from South Italy and Sicily and Roman Mosaics. These two titles inaugurate a series of dynamic, user-friendly, technologically robust digital publications focusing on the Getty collections that complement our many distinguished print publications.

Terracottas and Mosaics

The Terracottas catalogue, by Italian scholar Maria Lucia Ferruzza, highlights sixty notable objects and includes an annotated reference by Museum curator Claire L. Lyons to the more than 1,000 other such works in the collection.

The Roman Mosaics catalogue documents the Museum’s complete collection of these works and is published in conjunction with the exhibition Roman Mosaics across the Empire, now on view at the Villa. Curator Alexis Belis organized the exhibition and wrote the catalogue, which also has contributions by other scholars.


Why Digital Catalogues?

Following the Getty Foundation’s successful Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative(OSCI), more and more museums have been looking to digital formats for their collection catalogues. Digital formats allow for greater access, more flexibility, and interactive features not possible in print books.


Full Knoedler Gallery Stock Books Database Now Online

Via full article / Kelly Davis

Prayer in the Mosque, 1871, Jean-Léon Gérôme. Oil on canvas, 35 x 29 1/2 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 87.15.130. Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1887

The art dealer’s stock books offer new insights into the changing tastes and habits of collectors from 1921 to 1970

In September 2014, the Getty Research Institute launched an expanded dealer stock book database, providing access to stock books 1 through 6 of the Knoedler Gallery, covering 1872 to 1920. The editors of the Project for the Study of Collecting and Provenance (PSCP) are happy to share that the second half of the Knoedler stock books—numbers 7 through 11, covering 1921 to 1970—are now available online.

This addition brings over 16,000 new records to the database, added to the more than 23,000 Knoedler records from the earlier period plus over 43,000 records from the stock books of Goupil & Cie.

Top 10 Most Beautiful Medieval Manuscripts

Via / Full article

How does one judge what is a beautiful medieval manuscript? In our case we turn to an expert: Giovanni Scorcioni, co-founder of Facsimile Finder, the leading provider of facsimile editions of medieval manuscripts and books.

Based out of Italy, Giovanni has spent almost a decade looking through hundreds of medieval works in facsimile, and here is the list of his favourite manuscripts chosen from the most beautiful that were made in the Middle Ages.

“Saudação a Walt Whitman” / “Salutation to Walt Whitman” Álvaro de Campos por /by Patti Smith


Em visita à Casa Fernando Pessoa (Lisboa, 21 de Setembro de 2015), Patti Smith lê excerto do poema “Saudação a Walt Whitman”de / by Álvaro de Campos.
Patti Smith reads “Salutation to Walt Whitman” by Álvaro de Campos whilst visiting Casa Fernando Pessoa (21 September 2015).

Poema completo

A Beginner’s Guide to the Renaissance Book

Via Full article Sarah Sherman

Woodcut in Divina proportione, 1509, Luca Pacioli. The Getty Research Institute, 84-B9582. See full digitized book

A look at the art and science of Europe’s early printed books, with examples from the Getty Research Institute’s special collections.

In the 15th century, a new form of mass communication dramatically and permanently changed western society: the printed book. The invention of the printing press with movable metal type enabled texts to be printed faster and more cheaply, enabling knowledge and information to be disseminated more widely than ever before.

During the European Renaissance, from the 14th through the 17th centuries, there was renewed interest in the classical world and its knowledge. Scholars turned to literature, philosophy, art, music, politics, science, religion, and other fields of intellectual inquiry. Many books were published in Latin or Greek, and many more in vernacular (spoken) languages such as Italian, French, and German, which widened the readership and the promotion of Renaissance ideas. By 1501, with 100 million people on the European continent, there were 250 printing centers that produced 27,000 known titles totaling 10 million books.

Learning about these developments and how some of them relate to our contemporary world was part of the fascinating week I spent attending “The Renaissance Book, 1400-1650” at UCLA’s California Rare Book School. The course took us from the classroom to the “field,” where we visited three Southern California libraries to view books: UCLA, The Huntington, and our library here at the Getty. Here are a few highlights of what we learned.

Students examine rare books at the Getty Research Institute

Course participants explore volumes from the Getty Research Institute collection with rare books curator David Brafman (center)


For centuries before the Renaissance, books were written by hand, known as manuscripts. As early as A.D. 200, woodblock printing was used in China; the earliest known moveable type printing system emerged in A.D. 1040 and used ceramic type. Both ceramic and metal type were used in Korea as early as the 1200s.

Around 1450 in the town of Mainz in Germany, Johannes Gutenberg invented the mechanical printing press with moveable metal type. A goldsmith by trade, Gutenberg was inspired by presses used for making wine and olive oil. The first book he printed was the Gutenberg bible, which at over 500 years old is still one of the most renowned and costly printed books. Only 49 copies are known to exist today, of which 21 are complete.

Woodcut of a 16th-century print shop

A 16th-century print shop. A “puller” removes a printed sheet from the press, while a “beater” inks type. Source

Here’s how a single page was made in Gutenberg’s press:

  • Paper was most commonly made from cotton rags from old scraps of clothing.
  • Metal letters (“punches”) were created by casting metal into molds. The type was set by person called a compositor who sat in front of a case of letters and arranged the type into words. For ease and efficiency, the letters we know today as “upper case” were housed in the case above, while the “lower case” were housed in the case below.
  • Once a page of type was set, the machine press was operated by two people. One person positioned the paper, while the other applied ink to the type with ink balls.
  • A person called the “puller” applied muscle power to turn a lever that moved the paper through the press, impressing it with ink.

Here’s a short demonstration of positioning the paper and pulling the press:

Upper and lowercase type in the Colonial Williamsburg print shop

Upper and lowercase type in the Colonial Williamsburg print shop. Photo: Flickr user Maggie McCain, CC BY 2.0


Renaissance typefaces used in printing were inspired by the scripts used in manuscripts (handwritten books). Humanist minuscule, for example, is a lowercase handwriting style developed by Italian scholar Poggio Bracciolini at the beginning of the 15th century. It was based on Carolingian minuscule that was thought at the time to be from ancient Rome, but is in fact from centuries later, about A.D. 800 to 1200.

Humanist minuscule was the basis for the “Roman” typeface. Roman fonts are still familiar to us today. Garamond, a type of roman font probably available in your computer’s word-processing software, was invented by French 16th-century type designer Claude Garamond.

Sample of metal Garamond type

Ligature of long S and i in 12-point Garamond. Photo: Daniel Ullrich, CC BY-SA 3.0

The familiar italic type that we use on a daily basis today was also invented in the Renaissance. Based on the sloping calligraphic handwriting of Florentine Niccole de Niccoli in the 15th century, the italic typeface for printing was designed by punch cutter Francesco Griffo for the prominent Venetian publisher and printer Aldus Manutius, founder of the Aldine Press. The italic font allowed for faster and cheaper printing, because it saved time and space on the page.

In 1501 the Aldine Press printed the work of classical poet Virgil, creating the first book in italic type as well as the first octavo, a pocket-sized format much like our contemporary paperback books.

Page of type from Virgilius, 1501

Page from Virgilius, 1501, Aldo Manuzio and Andreas Torresanus de Asula. Reproduced courtesy of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze. Image © 2011 ProQuest LLC. Source

Stanford scholar discovers previously unknown Magna Carta scribe


Literary scholar Elaine Treharne painstakingly examined every letter and punctuation mark of the Salisbury Magna Carta in making her discovery about the document’s origin. (Photo illustration by L.A. Cicero)

Using handwriting analysis, Stanford manuscript expert Elaine Treharne shows for the first time that one of the world’s most famous documents was written not by the king’s own scribes, but by a cathedral scribe outside the central court.

Eight hundred years ago, one of the world’s most important documents was born. Issued by King John of England in 1215, the Magna Carta (“Great Charter”) acknowledged the rights of citizens and set restrictions on the power of the king. The Magna Carta has influenced the structures of modern democracies, including the writ of habeas corpus of the U.S. Constitution.


Image and Meaning in the Floral Borders of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves

Via / By Elizabeth R. Schaeffer

Master’s Thesis,  Eastern Illinois University, 1987

Introduction: The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, produced in the Netherlands in the early 15th century, is one of the most beautiful and complex manuscripts of the late Middle Ages. The Master’s remarkable originality in his choice and depiction of imagery in the borders of this manuscript has been the focus of much of the literature on the manuscript. Equally inventive is his symbolic use of the floral images in these borders, yet little has been made of this subject. An understanding of the meaning of these floral border images is, however, important to a complete understanding of the manuscript. Of particular interest are the realistic flowers seen in the borders of the illuminations of the first quarter of the manuscript—the Hours of the Virgin and the Hours of the Cross. These realistic floral images will be the focus of this paper.

The method the Master used to select and depict the realistic floral images in the borders of the Hours of the Virgin and the Hours of the Cross shows evidence of the influence of the Devotio Moderna, a vital philosophical movement in the Netherlands of the late Middle Ages having a strong influence on the culture within which the Master worked. I will structure this study of the Master’s use of floral symbolic imagery on three of the tenets of this philosophy.

Three tenets of the Devotio Moderna in particular are in accord with the Master’s choice of plant forms and his use of them as symbols in the border. The first tenet is the value of study of the immediate physical world as a means of understanding God’s will. Accordingly, the Master looked to the immediate world to find his models for the images of recognizable plant forms seen in his borders.

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