she who keeps this diary

11 March 2004 - 1:20 PM

Real Incunabula

I came up with a better background colour with the aid of an rgb to binhex (and back again) colour converter. Still not quite fifteenth-century paper, but an improvement.

One of the most wonderful things I've ever been privileged to see was an early printed edition of one of St Thomas Aquinas' works -- I think it was the Quaestiones quodlibetales, though my memory is hazy -- which was rubricated and illuminated. Mostly when people think of illumination, they think of manuscripts, but quite a few incunabula1 are illuminated as well, and this was one of them. The book in question is in the collection of St Andrews University, and the Keeper of Rare Books brought it out to me herself on the day I called it out of storage.

'I want to make sure you see this,' she told me, 'because I know you'll appreciate it.' Then she opened the volume up to the first page, where there was possibly the most beautiful historiated initial I'd ever seen. It was in blues and purples, with a portrait of the saintly author pointing out at his text. It's hard to describe the effect of the rich, somber painting against the soft warm white of the paper, or the technical excellence of the portrait. Glair is not an easy medium (as I am learning in my class) but whoever painted that initial was a master.

The Keeper and I held a reverent silence for a long moment before either of us drew breath. 'Thank you,' I said.

'You're welcome,' she answered, 'and mind you take a tea break in a couple of hours.'

Mmm. Tea.

1Incunabula are books printed before 1500.

verso - recto

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