Main entrance to the Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid
Over the last two months I’ve been on a number of manuscript viewing, research trips, in Modena, Vercelli, the Vatican, Paris and now Madrid. Undertaking manuscript viewings is definitely one of the more exciting and rewarding parts of being a codicologist, even though a few days with a manuscript (and ongoing work with photographs, ideally) can result in months or years of analysis, writing up and musing. In this post, I want to outline some first thoughts on Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, MS 413, which I spent a day with earlier this week. My main focus here will be on some features of the pricking and ruling strategies employed in the manuscript, as these caught my interest, and revealed an approach I’ve not personally seen before. Before turning to the pricking and ruling, though, it may first be useful to say a bit about the manuscript itself.
Madrid, MS 413 is a tenth-century copy of the Lombard laws produced in Southern Italy, probably in Benevento or Salerno. In addition to the usual collection of laws, from Rothari’s Edictus of 643 CE through to the additions of Aistulph in 750 CE, it also includes some of the Lombard legislation from after the Carolingian conquest of northern Italy, with a rubric and illumination for Arechis followed by the prologue and laws for Adelchis. I did make some mention of this manuscript in a previous post, discussing the hair-side and flesh-side of parchments, but that was before I had seen the manuscript in person, and was primarily because the photos of it on the Biblioteca Nacional website were on a CC license. On that note of CC manuscript images, here’s fols 156v and 157r, with the end of the laws of Aistulph, the illumination of Arechis, and the start of Adelchis’ prologue – a triple ‘A’ spread!
Madrid, MS 413, fols 156v & 157r
It is a lovely manuscript (aren’t they all?!) of reasonably portable size, with 162 folios measuring some 259 mm x 169 mm. However, it does seem to have been trimmed quite significantly during binding, so may originally have been a bit larger. An ownership mark, in the name of the Jurist Marino Freccia, and dated to 1534 is trimmed from the upper margin of fol. 2v, which provides a convenient terminus post quem for when the trimming and binding must have occurred. within the manuscript itself, a lot of the outer faces of quires are relatively more abraded than the folios within the quires, which may even suggest that the ‘book’ was instead used as a pile of unbound quires for a while. This is just idle speculation at the moment, though, and I need to ruminate on it a bit more. But it is far from an uncommon approach.
The manuscript, then, has some intriguing codicological features that need to be considered. I spent Monday examining it and taking notes in the National Library, and have somehow managed to write up a draft catalogue description of it for my Manuscripts of the Lombard Laws page, already. (Or the PDF of the first draft of the description can now be downloaded directly from here, if you are interested). Just as with my previous project, I shall be uploading the draft descriptions of all the manuscripts I work with onto that page of my website, and have slowly started adding in other manuscripts that I’m not working with (yet), to try and make it a complete resource. Hopefully, the descriptions may be of use to somebody, and of course any feedback or comments are greatly welcome.
As I was going through the manuscript, it quickly became apparent that the prick-marks – that is, the small holes used to guide the positioning of the ruling grid for laying out the mise-en-page of the manuscript – only had an erratic survival. Sometimes there would be a couple of folios in a row with prick-marks, only for half a dozen to pass without any sign at all. Taking a step back and considering their positions in relation to the collation of the quires, it on became apparent that the prick-marks where only surviving on the outer bifolium of any given quire.
Erratic survival of the prick-marks is nothing new, of course, especially for a manuscript which has been heavily trimmed, such as Madrid, MS 413. The possibility has to be entertained that this survival pattern was an artefact of the trimming process. Consider, four bifolia of effectively equal dimensions arranged in a quire. When the quire is closed along its folded spine, the outer edge of each bifolium protrudes a little further than the edges of the bifolium outside it. The central bifolium, then, sticks out the most, while the outermost when the least. When the manuscript is trimmed, presumably, the person doing the trimming still wants to keep as much of the folio size as possible, and allowing a little leeway for straightening the edges in the process, that outermost bifolium would form the lowest common denominator for the trimming, and the protruding bits of the inner bifolia would be the ones to get the chop. As such, the inner bifolia would have a greater chance of losing their prick-marks relative to the outer bifolium. And in some of the quires, the surviving prick-marks are so close to the very edge of the parchment, that this could be a compelling interpretation.
Except, there are a number of quires where the prick-marks are at 10-15 mm from the edge. And the same pattern can still be seen. There is no way, then, that the presence of prick-marks only on the outer bifolium can be an artefact of their survival, and instead it would appear that this is a direct reflection of the production practice. Pricking of quires, at least as I have normally encountered it, is usually performed on the whole quire simultaneously as a closed booklet. Using the tip of a knife, an awl or something similarly sharp, small and pointy, the person assembling the quire then stabs the whole pile at once. In this way, the same pattern is present on every folio, and moreover is mirrored across the openings of any two adjacent folios. Examination of the prick-marks on the parchment can often directly confirm this, with the shape of the hole showing that the blade came from the same direction for each. In Madrid, MS 413 the prick marks on the first and last folios of each quire are always from the recto. This means that, again, the bifolium was closed along the central fold of its spine when it was pricked, but that the inner bifolia (three in most cases) must have been removed at that point.
Having the prick marks on every single bifolium, means that each bifolium can be individually ruled. Having the prick marks only on the outer bifolium means that they cannot. Examination of the ruling grid of Madrid, MS 413 reveals that the ruling lines have in fact only been cut into the outer bifolium with the pricking. This was done with the bifolium spread open and lying face down, as can be confirmed from the ruled lines being cut from the recto on the first folio of each quire, and from the verso of the last folio. As this bifolium was, by this point, reunited with the other bifolia of the quire and was stacked on top of them, the imprint of the ruling grid was then transferred through the entire group at once. This can again be confirmed by examining the materials of each quire, where it can be seen that each imprint is fainter than the one before, with the lines on the central bifolium often being so faint as to be almost imperceptible.
Removing the outer bifolium of each quire to prick it, then reassembling the quire once more, is hardly the easiest way of creating the layout. It introduces additional steps, rather than removing them, so it would seem that laziness/efficiency was probably not the motivating factor. The actual reason is something which evades me, and at the moment I am throwing out ideas and mulling over them. did the scribe have a weak hand, and found that pricking through a stack of eight folios was a little too much effort, while two was manageable? If that was so, this must have been something they knew before beginning the book project, rather than discovered as they went along, as the lack of prick-marks in the inner bifolia of quires is present (or absent, even) from the start. Did the scribe in fact prick a stack of bifolia, but then separate that stack and redistribute them one per quire? On the one hand, this would ensure the identical pricking and ruling patterns across much more of the manuscript, and in Madrid, MS 413 the grids are rather consistent. That effect can also be achieved by using the pricking pattern from a previous quire as a guide for the next, although that sometimes leaves at least a few tell-tale signs where a hole has been re-cut. From what I saw, that was not present in this case, although already I am thinking I may need to go back for another viewing to double check that. If you have seen a pricking pattern like the one I’ve described here, and/or have any thoughts, please do leave a comment or send me a message. For me it’s very much a novelty, but I doubt that it is completely unique!
The work on Madrid, MS 413 then, is really still in its early stages – as is the work with all the other manuscripts on this project. I still have three more of the nine from this project to go and see in person, but the research in archives phase is well under way. For the Madrid manuscript it is nice to be reflecting on it, while still in the same city (my flight back to Vienna is later today). There is a lot to ruminate on, for which this intriguing pattern with the pricking is but the first, the ruling grid in the final quire is another intriguing oddity for instance. But that is a subject for another time.