What’s that thing called?

Did you know that the British Library has a glossary specific to illuminated manuscripts? If you’re like me, you’ve been reading metadata on a record and come across a term that made your eyebrows spike and your head get itchy.  Or maybe it was in one of those big coffee table books filled with beautiful glossy scans of manuscript pages.  Well, now you know where to go to find out what it means.

The Glossary for the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts!

Or you could Google it, I guess. But I like going directly to a source that I know will give me a good definition.  Now then, let’s look at some fun terms!

Display Script

You know those letters after a large initial in Hiberno-Saxon manuscripts that are usually bigger, and a different color? You know, like this!

Arundel MS 91, f. 33, image from the British Library

Well, that’s called display script, and is defined as follows by the BL:

Decorative SCRIPT, generally incorporating higher grade letter forms and sometimes employing a variety of colours. Display script is often used, along with an enlarged INITIAL, to emphasize major textual openings.

Oh, okay! So this is display text?

Yates Thompson MS 34, f. 169
Yates Thompson MS 34, f. 169, image from the British Library

No, wait. It doesn’t come right after the really big initial. This is an Incipit: The opening words of a text, from the Latin verb incipere (‘to begin’). The incipit and EXPLICIT of a book or text are often used in place of a title to identify a text.

Okay, okay, let’s do one more.

Damp Fold

The damp fold refers to a style of drapery on figures that is seen in Byzantine and Romanesque illumination.  When you see a figure with really drapey, clingly clothing, chances are it’s a damp fold.  Here’s the full definition:

A term coined in the mid-twentieth century to refer to a style of depicting drapery in which the material appears to cling to the body like wet cloth. The drapery folds not only articulate the human figure but, being sinuous and rhythmical, produce a decorative effect. The style ultimately derives from BYZANTINE art, but is found in the West from the twelfth century on and is an international feature of ROMANESQUE art. Three variations of damp-fold drapery have been noted: a style composed of concentric lines, particularly favoured in Burgundy in the twelfth century; nested V folds, in which planes of drapery of ovoid or pear shape terminate in a series of V’s – a widespread convention for rendering hanging drapery; the clinging curvilinear style, characterized by S-shaped lines, which enjoyed its greatest popularity in England, becoming something of a hallmark of English art around 1140-70. This latter style is often termed the Bury Bible figure style after one of its earliest and most important representatives.

Great! So what does that mean?  Well, here are some examples.

Concentric Lines: Burgundy, 12th Century

Peter Lombard writing, Yates Thompson 17, f. 42v
Yates Thompson 17, f. 42v, image from the British Library

Nested V-folds: Romanesque, Hanging Drapery

Harley MS 2970, f. 4v
Harley MS 2970, f. 4v, image from the British Library

Clinging Curvilinear, AKA Bury Bible Figure Style (S-shaped lines), England

For this one, look for figures with clothing that defines the various areas of their body – almost like they just walked away from a wet drapery contest.

Eadwine Psalter, MS R.17.1 f. 283v
Eadwine Psalter, MS R.17.1 f. 283v, image from Saint Louis University
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