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Evidence of Working Practice

While analysing the manuscripts we have examined the parchment to look for evidence of the working methods employed by the artists and scribes. As previously described the tell-tale signs are difficult to find due to the great age of the manuscripts and the many interventions they have had since leaving the scriptorium. However we have been lucky to discover some marks which indicate working practice.

It was usual for the scribe to prepare the parchment with guidelines to ensure the script was evenly spaced across the page within left and right margins and kept parallel to the top and bottom edges. This was typically established by leaving small incisions in the left and right margin to locate the lines equal distance apart, and a guide line scored into the skin with a sharp tool, such as a metal stylus, for the scribe to follow.  The wedge shaped marks of a scribes’ knife can be found in the margin of folio 38v in The Garland of Howth which establish the even distance of the lines.

The Garland of Howth, 8th-9th century, TCD MS 56, f. 38v © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.
The Garland of Howth, 8th-9th century, TCD MS 56, f. 38v © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

The Book of Dimma still exhibits the line markings scored into back of the page decorated with the symbol of St John. Typically, although not always, the pages with the portraits and symbols of the evangelists are kept blank, possibly because the artists relied on the semi-transparency of the sheet to aid with the planning and preparation of elaborate design elements, and also to create a break between the ending on one Gospel and the beginning of a new Gospel.

Lines were also scored or drawn on the vertical plane to establish the position for columns of text or border designs.

Compasses were used to create accurate circular design elements. On page 103 of Dimma we can see that the halo surrounding the head of the eagle and the lines that mark the position of the borders for page 104 are evidence of this practice.

The Book of Dimma, 2nd half of 8th century, TCD MS 59, p. 104 © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.
The Book of Dimma, 2nd half of 8th century, TCD MS 59, p. 104 © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

In the same manuscript the Portrait of St Mark has been placed on the back of a page of script. The markings for the ends of lines no longer exist and if the lines were scored the impression is no longer visible, however the slight unevenness in the placement of the script suggests they may not have been applied.  The artist/scribe has been more particular with the symmetry of the illumination, clearly marking the centre line for the placement of the figure.

In the Book of Mulling on folio 73r a faint line can be found that marks the position of the right column of text.

The Book of Mulling, 2nd half of 8th century, TCD MS 60, f. 73r © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.
The Book of Mulling, 2nd half of 8th century, TCD MS 60, f. 73r © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

Further reading:

Christopher de Hamel, Medieval Craftsmen. Scribes and Illuminator The British Museum Press 1992

Susie Bioletti, Keeper of Preservation and Conservation