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date: 17 August 2019

Border, manuscriptlocked

  • M. A. Michael


The elaboration of the margins of a manuscript with decorative or figural motifs. The development of decoration for otherwise blank margins on a page with text is associated with the evolution of the decorated and historiated initial (see Initial, manuscript; for borders accompanying full-page miniatures, see Miniature §I). It forms part of a developing scheme of hierarchies in the decoration of the manuscript, which in turn is linked to the page design and punctuation of the text. In its earliest phase, border ornament was closely tied to the form of the initial, so that by the 12th century parts of the initial were elongated to the extent that they affected the design of the page. In the Gothic period, however, borders became a more independent form of decoration, and pages of lesser importance were also included in the decorative scheme.

Another factor in the development of border decoration was the use of penwork initials, particularly in the Canon law and theology books copied at the university towns of Bologna, Paris, and Oxford in the Early Gothic period. In these textbooks, the decoration of initials of varying importance formed part of the visual organization of the page to enable easier reference. This hierarchical system of decoration for secular texts may have influenced the introduction of a similar system into the growing numbers of liturgical books owned by the laity. In addition, there seems to have been an association between the increased decoration of a text and its veneration, so that Psalters and Books of Hours, in particular, used as part of a programme of private devotion, were lavishly decorated both in a way that made them more accessible to the layman and in order to emphasize their sacredness. The amount of decoration used in a book can also help to gauge the cost of its production. This consideration, combined with the hierarchy of borders that had emerged by the end of the 13th century, was important in shaping the decorative programme of a manuscript; whether borders covered one or more margins on a page would depend on the amount of money spent and the relative importance of the text they framed....

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