Manuscript culture

Manuscript culture uses manuscripts to store and disseminate information; in the West, it generally preceded the age of printing. In early manuscript culture, monks copied manuscripts by hand. They copied not just religious works, but a variety of texts including some on astronomy, herbals, and bestiaries. Medieval manuscript culture deals with the transition of the manuscript from the monasteries to the market in the cities, and the rise of universities. Manuscript culture in the cities created jobs built around the making and trade of manuscripts, and typically was regulated by universities. Late manuscript culture was characterized by a desire for uniformity, well-ordered and convenient access to the text contained in the manuscript, and ease of reading aloud. This culture grew out of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the rise of the Devotio Moderna. It included a change in materials (switching from vellum to paper), and was subject to remediation by the printed book, while also influencing it.

The original collection of peciae for a book from which all future copies will be based is called the exemplar. The process of making an exemplar was supposed to be an orderly procedure: Masters of the university who compiled a new work were to edit, correct, and submit this authentic text to a stationer; he in turn copied from it an exemplar in peciae, corrected these against the authorís text with utmost care, and finally submitted them to the inspection of the universityís delegates for approval and for the setting of a rental price. Only then were peciae available for rental and copy.

It was not just the booksellers which the universities regulated. Additionally, university regulations forbade parchmenters from hiding the good parchment from university members wanting to buy. There were plenty of other demands for parchment outside the university such as: the record-keeping for the royal government, every similar entity of a commercial or mercantile guild, every religious house that issued a charter or kept a rent roll, every public letter-writer, everyone from major international trader to local shop-keeper who kept accounts. They all demanded parchment in greater numbers and were willing to pay higher than the regulated price which the university members paid. And so, the universities feeling such pressures often chose to regulate parchment as well.

The emergence of new standards in manuscript production, beginning in the Low Countries at the end of the fourteenth century, clearly marked the beginning of a new epoch in manuscript culture. Uniformity would result from the desire for clarity, both in terms of bibliographic accuracy and the reproduction and correction of the text itself. It necessitated greater organization, specifically within the monastic scriptoria. These had lost pre-eminence in medieval manuscript culture, characterized by the university, but had begun to undergo a rebirth in the fourteenth century. Historians have characterized this period as chaotic, with very poor quality paper manuscripts being held as a standard. However, the varying quality of materials did not affect the quality of the text contained on it, as the transition was made from parchment to rag paper. For instance, there was the formation of a new script, called hybrida, that sought to combine the traditional cursiva script with the script used in printed books. There was little loss of legibility, due to the use of sharp angles instead of loops. Additionally, in the first half of the fifteenth century, the practice of using a hierarchy of scripts to demarcate different sections of a text was re-instituted. Rubrics and colophons were clearly set off from the remainder of a text, employing their own unique script. All of these changes resulted from a desire for improved accuracy, and led to the creation of complex codification rules.

Oswald specifically wanted to reform the Statuta Nova of 1368. It stated no one could emend copies of the Old and New Testament, unless they were doing so against exemplars that had been prescribed by their order. Anyone who corrected texts in a manner inconsistent with those exemplars was publicly acknowledged to have corrupted the text, and subsequently punished. Oswald answered this with his Work of Peace, and stated that correctors should not engage in pointless labor by over-correcting. In it, he described correction not as a command, but an indulgence. It was practiced for the improvement and glorification of a text, and though it followed a set of rules, they were not so strict as to stifle emendation. This was a transition from older works with large numbers of lists and regulations that mandated every action a scribe could take in correction, and had been widely ignored in medieval print culture. Oswald rejected a system in which one must simply pick a single exemplar and correct according to it, or reproduce portions of texts which the scribe knew to be in error due to a proper exemplar not being attainable. Before Oswald, many believed these were the only available options under the older, strict rules.

Manuscripts were still written and illuminated well into the sixteenth century, some dating to just before 1600. Many illuminators continued to work on various manuscripts, specifically the Book of Hours. The Book of Hours had been the most commonly produced manuscript from the 1450s onward, and was among the last manuscripts created. By the sixteenth century, however, manuscripts were mostly illuminated by artists retained by nobles or royals. Their work was required (and manuscripts were created) only for unusual occasions, such as noble or royal births, weddings, or other extraordinary occurrences. The number of copyists had greatly declined, as these types of manuscripts were not intended for mass, or even student, consumption.

Christine de Pizan combined contemporary images through illumination with new humanistic values typically associated with print. Her work was based on Ovid's, and many Ovidian myths were traditionally illuminated, in the medieval period. She also incorporated astrology, Latin texts, and a wide variety of classical mythology in fleshing out Ovid's account, maintaining her humanist motivations. This contradiction also led to the use of illuminatio, or the practice of using light as color. Her Othea is a bricolage, restructuring tradition while not trying to create a new master work. It was done in the style of an ordinatio, or layout that emphasized the meaning of the organization of images.

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