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The Hand Book of Mediaeval Alphabets and Devices

The Hand Book of Mediaeval Alphabets and Devices
by Henry Shaw, F.S.A.

The greater number of our specimens having been taken from illuminated MSS. a slight sketch of the origin and progress of that beautiful art, which prevailed in Europe from the fourth to the sixteenth century, is entitled to precedence. The art of applying colour to written documents seems to have had an eastern origin. The Egyptians were in the habit of rubricating their MSS. and this practice may have passed to Greece and Rome, though no evidence of it exists in either country previous to the Christian era. In the rolls of Papyri, discovered at Herculaneum (written in the early half of the first century), there is no trace of any ornament whatever, though we know from Ovid and Pliny that the Romans, long before the destruction of Pompeii, were accustomed to rubricate their MSS. and adorn them with paintings. The process of laying on and burnishing gold and silver appears to have been familiar to the oriental nations from a period of remote antiquity; and, although there are no instances of its use in the Egyptian Papyri, yet it is not unreasonable to believe that the Greeks acquired from Egypt, or I ndia, the art of thus ornamenting manuscripts, and probably conveyed it to the Romans. A mong the later Greeks, the usage became so common that the scribes or artists in gold seem to have constituted a distinct class. The luxury thus introduced was augmented by writing on vellum, stained of a purple or rose colour, the earliest instance of which is recorded by Julius Capitolinus, in his life of the Emperor Maximinus the younger, to whom his mother made a present of the Poems of Homer, written on purple vellum, in golden letters. This took place at the commencement of the third century. For upwards of a hundred years the practice seems to have continued of rare occurrence, but, to Our initial is taken from a coloured drawing, now in the British Museum, made by A
(Typographical errors above are due to OCR software and don't occur in the book.)

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