Two-fisted writing; or, Scribes and the tools of their trade

July 22, 2013 § 2 Comments

Frosini-IMG_016b

How to hold a pen …

One core component of vHMML is the Library, which supports online access to literature on manuscript studies, diplomatics, paleography, and codicology. Many out-of-copyright texts have been already been digitized by others and are available through a variety of online services. In addition, HMML staff has identified many gaps and has moved to fill these in. The earlier works include titles by Maurist authors (who “re-discovered” manuscript studies in the 17th and 18th centuries), writing manuals from the 16th to the 19th centuries, as well as later monographs and catalogs on manuscripts.

HMML staff has built a large bibliography with links to online versions of books and articles (where they exist) using a free online resource, Zotero (www.zotero.org): https://www.zotero.org/groups/manuscript_studies/items.  This program allows us to work together on this bibliography, not only among HMML staff, but also with our collaborators at other institutions. The most developed list is the one titled “Paleography collection,” but we continue to work on all of the lists and add new links as we can. The goal is to incorporate this bibliography (and links) into the vHMML structure itself.

From Johann G. Weber's Allgemeine Anweisung der neuesten Schönschreibkunst (ca. 1780)

Two-fisted writing. From Johann G. Weber’s Allgemeine Anweisung der neuesten Schönschreibkunst (ca. 1780)

One area where the use of visual data can be very helpful is the description of writing practices–both the tools used and the way that scribes were expected to sit while writing.  Such knowledge can help us understand the physicality of manuscript books, while also providing some insight into the way the letters were formed on the page (even allowing us to better interpret them as readers).

Here is a brief gallery from early modern writing manuals. First we see examples of the tools needed:

Preparing the quill.

Preparing the quill.

Compendio-IMG_059

Tools and instruments for writing.

Ink well, pen and knife. From the Arca Artium collection.

Ink well, pen and knife. From the Arca Artium collection.

Then we have depictions of proper posture:

From Santiago Palomares, Arte de escribir (1798).

The true method for holding a pen. From Santiago Palomares, Arte de escribir (1798).

From a work by Michael Baurenfeind.

From a work by Michael Baurenfeind.

We even have portraits of writing masters with their pens in hand–note their hand posture:

Thomas Tompkins. From the Arca Artium Collection.

Thomas Tompkins. From the Arca Artium Collection.

John Willis. From the Arca Artium Collection.

John Willis. From the Arca Artium Collection.

Sometimes, however, the writer’s posture is not quite ideal:

From the title page of Johann Georg Zimmermann's Ueber die Einsamkeit ("On Loneliness" - I guess that tells us something about writing?

From the title page of Johann Georg Zimmermann’s Ueber die Einsamkeit (“On Loneliness” – I guess that also tells us something about writing?)

Finally, HMML’s online image database, Vivarium, contains several photographs from medieval manuscript depictions of scribes and writers.  Most of these are saints, often writing themselves, occasionally dictating to someone else.  These, too, can provide clues about the proper posture (usually “two-fisted”) for writing, the preferred layout for desk (or occasionally on the “laptop”), and how to hold a pen.  Here is a selection of digital images showing someone writing.

Examples of scribes/authors at their desks (or writing in their laps) from medieval manuscripts in Vivarium:

Of course, writing is not always fun ...

Of course, writing is not always fun … Caricature by Daumier (1808-1879).

Until next time, happy writing!

Matt Heintzelman

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