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Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts: Witnesses From Our Written Past

Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts: Witnesses From Our Written Past, the exhibit currently on view in the Bailey/Howe Library, explains the processes involved in making manuscript books during the Middle Ages using many examples from UVM’s Special Collections.  Dating from the 12th to the 17th centuries, these handwritten books and single leaves display many colorful illustrations and numerous styles of writing, mostly in variations of Gothic script.  Illustrated panels explain parchment-making, the manufacture and use of inks, binding the manuscript, and the process of copying texts in the scriptoria of medieval monasteries and universities.

Among the pieces on display are several notable copies of religious and secular texts.  Three works of Cicero—De amicitia, Paradoxa, and De senectute—were bound in one volume, each text beginning with a highly decorated page.   This copy was produced in the early 1400s.  Nearly filling one exhibit case, a Graduale Romanum—which contains music sung in the Mass, including the “Gradual” chant—was manufactured in the 1500s, probably in Spain.  Perhaps as impressive as the volume’s extra-large parchment pages is its severely worn cover made of wooden boards and partially covered with leather.  A picture of this cover can be seen in the “Binding the Manuscript” panel.  Other highlights include leaves from lavishly decorated Books of Hours, made for wealthy laypersons; several leaves from the Koran, one of which is dated 1106; and leaves from a ca. 1500 Italian herbal showing medicinal and magical uses for plants, some of which were drawn with distinctly anthropomorphic features.

The exhibit was prepared by Travis Puller, Gertrude Mallary Fellow in Special Collections, and is funded in part by the Friends of Special Collections.  It will be on display through the remainder of 2009.

Initial letter G

Initial letter G,  from a manuscript produced in northern Italy during the early 1400s.

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