|One leaf from Gratianus's Decretum (Strassburg: |
Grüninger, 1490). Recycled as binding
As a result, my buying (and, to a degree, selling) of medieval manuscript items has focused on recycled medieval material: usually leaves or fragments recycled as binding materials in later books.
Of course a similar fate often met early printed books, and in recent years, I've also begun looking for incunabula fragments recycled in bindings. One benefit of doing so, of course, is that it gives me a whole new area for learning about old books, which is a delight.
One of the things I have long known about incunabula (books printed before 1501) is that they were often manuscripts as well, or at least intended to be: very frequently, space was left for capital letters. The printers imagined or intended that these spaces be filled in by hand, usually with painted initials. Not only did many early printed books look like manuscripts, they were, in part, actual manuscripts, with at least some letters entered by hand.
Recently, I came across the pictured fragments from an incunabula edition of the Decretum of Gratianus, a standard legal text, with commentary.
I was surprised, when I was looking these leaves over, to note that some of the red initial letters had been printed, while some had been inserted by hand.
|Note in the left-hand column, the "O" and |
"E" have been printed, while the "A" and
"P" were painted in by hand.
The printed red portions include not only these initials, but rubricated headings and even the running headings at the tops of the pages. There was enough material that the printer wanted to appear in red that it was worth the effort to set up a two-color printing process.
But even so, Grüninger apparently still felt the book would be best, if alternating initials were added in by hand, ideally in a contrasting color. In this copy, the contrast is not very strong: the hand-painted initials here might be in a purplish color, rather than red, but blue or green would certainly have provided a stronger and more effective contrast.
I find details like this fascinating; perhaps those who work more closely and frequently with early printed books than I do will be thoroughly familiar with this sort of thing, but it seems to me to offer a wonderful insight into a late fifteenth-century idea of just how colorful a book ought to be. It has only been recently, after all, that we have begin to have a renewed appreciation for color in our texts.
|Note that, beneath the capital "S" at the bottom of |
the image here, there is a small printed lower-case
"s" (the tall form) to guide the scribe who added the painted letters. A printed "S" appears
at the upper right.