Friday, April 11, 2014

Bored with Gothic? Try This.

  This week's update to the graphics in Medieval Writing is for a script sample and paleography exercise of Beneventan script, as expressed in an 11th century Exultet Roll. It is quite fascinating for a number of reasons. First, the script is, like insular minuscule, one which defiantly held up its head and continued when all around were going Carolingian. Unlike insular minuscule, I find it hard to read, but maybe that's my smidgen of Irish ancestry coming in. The letter forms and ligatures that characterised the pre-Carolingian scripts of Europe have become very loopy and mannered. Looks pretty but is a bit hard to untangle, unlike the logical structure of insular minuscule. Can I say that without starting a pre-Carolingian script war?

  The second interesting feature is the form of the manuscript, which is unlike anything in the Anglo-French medieval tradition. Yes, they had rolls for various purposes, but the exultet rolls from Italy were designed in a unique form for a particular purpose. They were the text for the deacon to sing at the Easter ceremony for the consecration of the Paschal candle. The roll was placed over the lectern, so the audience could see the relevant pictures as the deacon sang the passages. Does this drop us a hint at the capacity, or lack thereof, of the laity to actually understand church Latin in the wild? This means that the pictures were upside down in relation to the text, and slightly offset from the particular passage. I think that makes it a kind of medieval Powerpoint presentation.
  The text addresses the usual concerns of Easter, the major church feast of the medieval calendar. A particularly delightful touch is the song of praise for the bees which made the wax for the Paschal candles, accompanied by a rural scene of beekeeping. Nice to think of insects getting a bit of medieval love.
  The other fabulous thing about this example is that the British Library has digitised the entire manuscript here. Once you have a handle on the script, it is well worthwhile to have a lingering examination of the whole thing. Just wish the British Library had put a 180 deg. revolve button on their images so we didn't have to keep standing on our heads in front of the computer screen to see the images properly. Hey, British Library, we love what you are doing these days, and we appreciate your letting us use the results.
  I realised when I was doing this update that I had intended years ago to include an example of early Beneventan or Lombardic. Must see if I can find one with a spiffy colour graphic, rather than the grungy old scan from an ancient paleography book that I had earmarked. All these lovely new resources make for more work, but we are all loving it.

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