Dr. Erik Kwakkel

Boethius, De institutione arithmetica (detail)
This 1000-year-old math primer is nothing fancy, but it took months for a scribe to make.

A medieval textbook

Novgorod, Museum of History, birch bark strip 202, from pupil Onfim, dated 1240-1260
At medieval universities, students took notes on parchment scraps, sometimes bound together with cord.

Medieval notepads

Bookcases in Hereford Chained Library
From cupboard shelfmarks to bookcase inventories, medieval readers devised codes for locating precious volumes.

Finding books

A medieval revolving bookmark (sold at Sotheby’s, July 5, 2005, lot 16)
Lose your place? Not in a monastic library. Static or dynamic, “spider,” or wheel, these bookmarks stay put.

Smart bookmarks

Christine de Pisan in her study. Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, MS 9009-11
A carousel, a wheel, or a portable desk? Reading multiple books at once required ample space and custom furniture.

The medieval desktop

Leiden, University Library, BPL MS 2778 (photo: Giulio Menna)
Medieval libraries hid a forest in their shelves—wood boards, covered and clasped, protected precious parchment.

Binding the book

Outline drawings from a pattern book, Yale, Beinecke MS 553, 1400-1600
Decorators drew inspiration from design books, from enlarged capitals to elaborate figures in the margins.

Medieval supermodels

Gilding, Leiden, University Library, VLQ MS 4, 14th century (photo: Giulio Menna)
From penwork and gilding to one-letter stories, decorators offered a range of services to dazzle medieval readers.

Decorating the book

Into a letter P: St Paul at the desk with ruled quire, writing, Hamburg Bible, 1255, Denmark, The Royal Library, MS GKS 4 2°, vol. III, f. 125r
Long before ruled notebooks hit the shelves, medieval writers lined, laid out, and folded their own parchment.

The work of the scribe

The golden letters in this manuscript were stolen by a thief in the past, who cut them out with a knife. Leiden, University Library, BPL MS 59, 14th century (photo: Erik Kwakkel)
Prime cuts, or strips? Scribes weren’t butchers, but they did cut skin and pick out different grades of parchment.

Skins and scraps