– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

conservation survey notes 3

Today’s feature comes from MS 151 (a 13th century copy of letters by St Bernard of Clairvaux), f 161r – rubricator’s notes. At the very edge of the bottom of most pages are tiny notes. These will have been made by the scribe as he went along, to indicate the text for headings and anything else that needed to be added in red, for which he left spaces in the (black) main text.

Then he or another scribe went back through the text, adding paragraph marks, initials, headings and other decoration, usually (as here) in alternating red and blue inks. The rubrication notes were placed right on the edge of the parchment because they were always intended to be trimmed off, and they usually are – occasionally one that wasn’t quite close enough to the edge will remain, or at least the tops of the letters will, after trimming, but it’s rare to have them present, as in this one, throughout the manuscript.


Further decoration such as marginal foliage or figures, historiated initials etc, using more pigments and sometimes gold, (not present in this ms) was yet another layer of time and therefore expense in the book production process. Scribe, rubricator and limner were three distinct roles that might all be done by the same person, or by two or three different individuals.


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