Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Book Manufacturing in a World After the Carolingians

     The collapse of the Carolingian dynasty in Western Europe had a profound impact similar to that of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Asides from the basic return to regional rulers having total authority over their wards, there was also the return to regionalized culture across Christendom. Monasteries returned to maintaining their own version of the Benedictine charter, book production and copying returned to previous methods with little organization between distant monasteries, unlike what was seen during the time of the Carolingians. This return to localization, not just within the governments and organization of monastic life, but with scripts, is a very visible reflection of the collapse of one of the greatest land empires Europe had seen since the Romans.Within the Rievaulx Orosius are several of the prime markers of the re-localisation of book manufacturing, as the previously accepted methods of Caroline script and hierarchy within books is ignored. Instead of Anglo-Caroline minuscule, we see a return to more traditionally Anglo text styles in the form of Anglo square capitals and even the beginnings of Anglo Protogothic script. Note the sharpness of the corners on the words and the distinctive flatness of the sides. This contrasts sharply with the relatively fluid movements required by the previously dominant scripts on the British Isles, Insular and Anglo-Caroline. Though perhaps not the best term to use, but this form of script contains a tremendous amount of "minim-ization," as nearly every letter is made up of minims in one way or another.
Decorated initial
Note the preference of pattern
similar to peacock
feathers over Celtic knots or
 religious iconography
within the stem of the P.
Decorated initials
This A in particular strikes me
as very typical of Capetian design,
 look at thelong trailing flourish and how
fluid it seems to melt across the page.
Looking withinyou can clearly see
several flower buds
and surrounding leaves.
Decorated initials
More examples of proto-gothic
script and strange styling in
initials for the English
monks to be writing with.
     There is also the question of illustrations and images within the manuscript, more specifically the elaborately detailed initials present in the text. They bear dozens of patterns that are fairly atypical to Insular manuscripts and those of the continent. Up into the 10th century Celtic knots were still quite common within initials and were used in a variety of genres of text. So why was there a shift away from traditional iconography? More likely than anything else, it was perhaps mostly just due to changes in tastes as time went on. Knots went out of style and the rise of the Capetians in Francia (ah, those French, always the trend setters) led to increasing usage of blues as well as designs and symbols we typically associate as being very "French," such as the fleur de lis, peacock featherings, and the twisting, vine-like, detailing typical of French engraving and architecture. It's also important to note that there is significantly more rubrication in the main body of the script than in in many of the other manuscripts we've looked at this semester. It seems that rubrication has overtaken marginal notes in popularity to make certain points more noticeable than others.
Decorated initials
Interesting to note: the
rubrication appears to be similar
to the main body of text, perhaps
the same scribe did them both?
     Then of course there is the return to writing about local affairs rather than the copying of universally applicable philosophical and religious texts. The  Rievaulx Orosius is a narrative and a chronicle, the only one of its kind it seems, that covers English history in depth from the 2nd century all the way though to the 12th. However, this is only one book within the manuscript, prior to that is an account of the Trojan War by by a priest of Troy known as Dare, however this is probably fictionalized as the writer appears to be late Roman. Neither of these two things would be considered useful to any monastery outside of England. In the centuries prior to the writing of this piece, this would have been exceedingly rare and written in shorthand and with very little care to legibility or illustrations (such as the Moore Bede with it's line after line of historical regurgitation). This piece is less interested in the retelling of events, but rather it is interested in the spread and dispersion of a specific form of knowledge. The Rievaulx Orosius is a local history book used for spreading knowledge between neighboring monasteries. This makes it unique to those that came before it. Before manuscripts traveled entire continents to be copied and shared so that everyone could have the same basic knowledge, but this manuscript is meant to be shared locally, and locally alone.


  1. The Rievaulx Orosius is a beautiful example of the return to localism in regard to manuscript production. The text seems to be in amazing condition, considering it’s age and function. The ink is still vibrant and the pages do not show signs of heavy use; I am assuming that the manuscript did travel, and would have accrued signs of wear, even if the codex did travel among local monasteries only. Equally as beautiful as knot work, I can appreciate the French influence on the execution of the decorative initials (especially the peacock feathering). The careful detailing of the images, the neat, concise, and consistently written text and page formatting all speak of the pride and craftsmanship that went into the making of this manuscript, a manuscript that would have been viewed by a limited audience.

  2. I think this is a really fascinating summation of the appearance of assorted historical trends in the text. There is something really cool about seeing the transition of one mode of writing into another, the relatively unadorned, elegant letters of Caroline minuscule being discarded in favor of spikier, more aggressive Gothic forms. The context of some of these developments might be worth noting, at least to some extent - the very visible French influence in the illustrations was very probably related to the newly established Norman regime; the Norman conquest occurred in 1066, and by the date of the creation of this manuscript, Norman control of the isles would have been solidified, and their culture ascendant. In light of such a dramatic change in power, it makes sense that Carolingian styles would be abandoned in favor of a new aesthetic. The book itself is certainly a work of beauty on several levels. The note on the limited interest in the text itself is interesting as well, because while it is not necessarily true that monasteries were isolated in this time, violence disrupted the previously much stronger ties between them. The specific kind of knowledge that book producers cared to spread at the time is interesting as well; interest in Rome clearly did not die out with the Carolingians, but the increased focus on specifically local history and traditions is evident.

  3. It is very interesting comparing the differences between the Rievaulx Orosius and LJS 101, a copy of Boethius’s De interpretatione. LJS 101 is essentially a textbook Carolingian textbook. Additions were added to LJS 101 in the eleventh century, and it is amazing to think about how much changed in style and content between when LJS 101 was updated in the eleventh century and when Rievaulx Orosius was produced in the twelfth century. The script used in the Rievaulx Orosius is dramatically different from Carolingian miniscule and other earlier, rounder scripts, this probably signifies to some extent a shift in power and influence that occurred when this manuscript was produced. The only large initial in LJS 101 was added in the eleventh century and it has very traditional Celtic knot-work and stylized animal heads. I find the more flowery initials present in the Rievaulx Orosius to be quite beautiful, and the lessening prevalence of Celtic knots and animal figures in initials is an interesting shift which highlights the changing ideals and trends over time. It also differs from the Boethius in content, this manuscript focusing on local history rather than commenting on the work of a classical author like Aristotle. It appears that this manuscript was extremely carefully produced, despite its more limited range and audience.

  4. It is interesting to see the gradient of decoration that exists within manuscripts, ranging from the extravagance of books such as the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Iona to the simple yet functional displays of books such as the University of Pennsylvania's copy of St. Isidore of Seville's Etymologies. Within the UP's copy of Etymologies detail work similar to that of the Rievaulx Orosius, though somewhat simpler and with less color, was used for the initials, and both manuscripts in question were made for function rather than display.

    When the Carolingian Empire was divided in 887, the continuation of Imperial rule fell to the German Kingdom, and it is in Germany that customs begun in the Carolingian Empire such as the production of books for imperial business, such as the Coronation Gospels, would continue.