YouTube, Sexy Codicology, Full HD videos of Manuscripts’ Details

YouTube as a Tool to Promote Illuminated Manuscripts?

Medieval manuscripts are excellent material for YouTube videos. You can highlight the details and the beautiful colors and illuminations. We decided to give it a try, and yesterday we published our first video and launched our YouTube Channel.

What is the plan for our YouTube videos?

We would like to create videos that go beyond showing the illuminations alone. We want them to be beautiful, but informative and intriguing too. The aim of the whole Sexy Codicology project is to attract people to medieval manuscripts, but there is so much more beyond the pretty illumination: there are the symbols, the intricate system of manuscript production, the illuminators, the commissionaires and their own stories, etc. Synthesizing all of that in one minute movies is not possible, nor we have the possibility, both economical and technical, to extend the length of videos. Therefore, videos will have more of a supporting role to what we publish on our blog.

In example: we created a page about Book of Hours not too long ago. We are now working on a video that will assist the reader in the discovery of such books.


Well, there are faults in this perfect plan: Copyrights and, most importantly, quality of the digitized medieval manuscript.

The issue with copyrights is more technical than anything else. Some institutions, the Walters Art Museum in primis, allow use of their digitized medieval manuscripts images under a Creative Common license that allows anyone to use their pictures in any way. This means that we can take their images, optimize them in Photoshop, throw them in AfterEffects, and publish them on YouTube. Some other institutions do not like that, so before we do anything with images, we always have to carefully check that we are not infringing anyone’s rights.

There is also an issue concerning music copyrights. We cannot use music that is copyrighted, unless we want YouTube to come to us and tell us we are bad boys. There are some royalty free music we are going to use thought, so we are covered from that point of view.

Quality of the images is essential for a YouTube project. Illuminated manuscripts are fantastic, but if you show them in low quality on YouTube, then they become a mass of comprehensible pixels on-screen. Personally, I have a BA in graphic and multimedia design (what does it mean? I still wonder. How did I go from that to medieval manuscripts? God knows), and experience in making short movies; I know that 1200px by 700px at 72dpi of 100kbyte will never be good enough for a full HD video, but a 1200×700 300dpi x 15MB can be enlarged enough without loosing detail. Again, not all institutions have this kind of quality available for users; and again, the Walter Art Museum actually has. Well, they have 300MB tiff images! Perfect. We hope that other institutions will allow bigger downloads so we can make more videos about more fantastic manuscripts.

YouTube on a Medieval Manuscript
YouTube buffering on a Medieval Manuscript (Vatikan, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. lat. 537)

Free Online Books from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Medieval manuscript donkey

A short overview of medieval goodness for your reading list!

Through this tweet from @brianberni we learned about a great online source of free online books from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s (MET) website.

Among the great number of publications from this museum there is a subsection of mostly out-of-print books that have been made available for free: either directly readable online through Google Books or fully downloadable as a PDF. You can find the full list of available titles here:

It is amazing and great of the MET to share their publications as free online books. For people who love art and history there is much, much goodness to find and read. For this blog post we went through this list and we will highlight the most interesting and awesome books for you here (in random order). These are not book reviews, we just wanted to share this list as soon as we could – reading all of the titles mentioned here would’ve taken much too long.

The focus will be mostly on medieval manuscripts of course, but we include also other books about medieval life, history, art and culture that are just too amazing not to mention.

1. The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry

A book focusing on the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry is one of the many free online books!
A book focusing on the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry is one of the many free online books!

The title of this publication already makes it clear that it will be full of manuscript goodness. It has the looks of the perfect book about this sort of subject: first a nice background overview and then it continues to discuss the manuscript in quite some detail. The author explains a massive number of the illuminations of the Belles Heures including small transcripts and translations of the text with the miniatures. Furthermore, there are chapters on the books that the Limbourg Brothers worked on and, also quite fascinating, who and what influenced their artistic style. We can say nothing other about this book than that it is simply amazing (on first browsing it). It is chock-full of colour photos and stacked with information. Why is this book of out print? We want to buy it now! Very much recommended.

2. The Unicorn Tapestries


In the Cloisters Museum (part of the MET) in New York, on permanent display you can find seven late Gothic tapestries that portray the Hunt of the Unicorn (believed to have been made in the Southern Netherlands). The unicorn is a common imaginary animal that can be found in medieval art and in manuscripts (some books have margins full of unicorns!). The tapestries are an amazing, captivating and fascinating pieces of art and The Unicorn Tapestries discusses various aspects of it. For manuscript enthusiasts we believe this is a recommended read since the first chapter of the book discusses the unicorn in ancient and medieval texts. Also in other chapters we find many links to medieval manuscript and literary culture. Because of this, this book could be of interest for anyone that wants to know more about beasts and fantastic creatures in medieval manuscript, literature and art. Because of this, this book could be of interest for anyone that wants to know more about beasts and fantastic creatures in medieval manuscript, literature and art.

More on this subject: Masterpieces of Tapestry from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century

The Cloisters Apocalypse: An Early Fourteenth-Century Manuscript in Facsimile is one of the many free online books from the Met!
The Cloisters Apocalypse: An Early Fourteenth-Century Manuscript in Facsimile is one of the many free online books from the Met!

3. Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages

Another beautiful book from the MET collection! This one also begins with an introduction on the subject of pen drawings in medieval manuscripts in various areas (such as Anglo-Saxon England) and how it changed throughout the centuries. The largest part of the book is a catalogue stocked with beautiful colour pictures and interesting (not too short, not too long) descriptions of what you are looking at. This books shows the reader very well how ‘simple’ pen drawings can also make beautiful manuscripts.

4. The Secular Spirit: Life and Art at the End of the Middle Ages

This title contains information on all the various aspects of medieval life that you can think of: the household, fashion, music, ceremonies and traditions, science and technology, music, food, travel, trade and of course also a part on the medieval book. The authors discuss how books were made (including the early printed book), readership and books as artefacts of learning, private libraries and what sort of titles were the ‘bestsellers’ of the middle ages. Also this book is full of nice illustrations of amazing and curious objects, which is a great addition. This book appears to be a good read for someone who is interested in medieval life and wants a general overview with lots of cool and fascinating facts.

5. The Armored Horse in Europe, 1480-1620

Already reading the title made us very curious! This book is about quite a specific subject, but fascinating. It is a different way of looking at medieval battles and the life of knights and warriors.  The book starts out with an introduction with some pictures from manuscripts and the second part of the book is a catalogue of related items in the collection of the MET. This might not sound particularly exciting, but on the contrary, it is. The book has all sorts of images of objects with nice explanations and some background information. They include, for example horse armour from famous medieval people (Henry II of France, Emperor Charles V), cute but amazingly made chess pieces of knights on horses. Also, the pictures give you a nice idea of a particular aspect of medieval warfare and it shows well how the horse armour is also often a beautifully decorated piece of art.

For more related awesomeness about medieval chivalry, weapons and armour, also take a look at this MET publication: The Art of Chivalry and European Helmets, 1450–1650: Treasures from the Reserve Collection.

6. On Illuminated Manuscripts and Manuscript Culture:

Medieval Art from Private Collections – with a section on Illuminated manuscripts

Treasures of Early Irish Art, 1500 B.C. to 1500 A.D. – amazing book with great detailed pictures of artworks. Furthermore, contains also information and pictures about Insular manuscripts. Recommended!

The Year 1200: A Centennial Exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and part II: The Year 1200: A Background Survey – contains information and illustrations on various areas such as painting and architecture, but also a section of manuscript culture and illuminations.

The Robert Lehman Collection. Vol. 4, Illuminations

Donkey reading a medieval manuscript
Abbeville Bibl. mun. ms. 3

The Cloisters Apocalypse: An Early Fourteenth-Century Manuscript in Facsimile

7. Variety of titles on Medieval Art & Architecture:

The Art of Medieval Spain: A.D. 500-1200

The Cloisters Cross: Its Art and Meaning

The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture

The Cloisters: Studies in Honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary

A Walk Through the Cloisters

English and French Medieval Stained Glass in the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

From Attila to Charlemagne: Arts of the Early Medieval Period in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Radiance and Reflection: Medieval Art from the Raymond Pitcairn Collection

We want to thank @brianberni a lot for sharing this great website with us. All of the books mentioned here are very much worth a couple of minutes of your time to browse through and maybe it inspires you as much as it has us to read some of them. The titles that we talked about in this post is only a small part of everything that the MET has available for free. There are so much more books that are very worth exploring about art and history. Whatever your fancy is, chances are great that you will find something to your taste amongst those books.

Scribes in Medieval Manuscripts

Medieval Scribe

Being scribes in medieval manuscripts makes you look quite cool.

Yes, you just saw a scribe riding a wyvern.

Being scribes in medieval manuscripts gets you to be depicted in all kinds of ways. Let’s go on a short trip and see what you get to look like.

For sure it’s not always a lonely work, since you constantly get distracted by other people or animals. Yes, being a scribe in medieval manuscripts means that you will be drawn with all kind of beings that will try to distract you from your noble intent. Sometimes it is Jesus or God:

St. John, seated on the island of Patmos, with scroll on his lap and quill in his hand. God the Father appears in clouds in upper left corner.

Sometimes it is a bird, coming in just to poke your eye and be plainly annoying.

St. Gregory writing, with the Holy Dove whispering in his ear, added 1st half of 13th cent. MS. Canon. Liturg. 297, f. 10v, Germany, 1154.

Sometimes it’s an awesome flying lion (but you need a promotion to the rank of “Evangelist” for that).

St. Mark seated, writing; winged lion appears from above. MS. Canon. Bibl. Lat. 60,f. 48v, Austria, XII cent.

Sometimes it’s your boss, who enjoys micromanagement.

Plato, micromanaging. MS. Ashmole 304, f. 31v, England, XIII cent.

Sometimes it’s still your boss that just pops out of nowhere, you get startled and you point your knife at him because of the scare.

Christ with the key of David points to the open door, speaking to John who is seated with writing implements. MS. Douce 180, f. 9r, England, ca. 1265.

Sometimes you get to be depicted while writing after your boss dictation…

MS. Auct. D. 4. 14, St. John writing.

…and when you protest because he is going too fast…

MS. Auct. D. 4. 14, St. John protesting.

…and when your boss cordially reminds you what a useless scribe you are.

MS. Auct. D. 4. 14, St. John is put in his place.

But it could be worse. You could be depicted as an animal (“Evangelist” promotion required).

St. Luke. Initial: St. Luke, with ox’s head, writing. MS. Auct. D. 4. 8. f. 577v, England, Ca. 1240-1250.

So it is no wonder that your figures of scribes in medieval manuscripts will be the one of a man with crazy eyes all busy writing a book about the end of the world.

St. John writing at desk. MS. Laud Lat. 9, France, Ca. 1220-1230

But, in the end, what’s the coolest thing in being scribes in medieval manuscripts? Well, the fact that many manuscripts survive until our days can prove that once you were once a scribe, but then you  became a knight protecting the holy grail. And you met Indiana Jones. Proof? Proof:

Cicero seated at desk writing with stylus on tablets (before becoming immortal and a defender of the holy grail). MS. Digby 46, f. 76r, England, XIV cent.
Cicero seated at desk writing with stylus on tablets (before becoming immortal and a defender of the holy grail). MS. Digby 46, f. 76r, England, XIV cent.
Cicero as a knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Old School, New School


Medieval maniculae in early printed books from the Elsevier Heritage Collection

Elsevier annotated book

In medieval times you couldn’t just go and underline the important parts of the manuscripts you were reading.

Well, yes, you could. Some manuscripts have strikethroughs that had the same function; other times, though, an underlined sentence in a medieval manuscript would indicate a part of text that needed correction (pretty much like a teacher would underline a mistake at school). But, anyways:

How could you indicate a part of the text you thought was important and wanted to remember, without ruining the scribes hard work?

There were many ways. Most famously: Nota Bene marks, Dignum Memoria, and…

A manicula in the margin of a printed book.
A manicula in the margin of a printed book.


Yep: you would simply draw a hand with a finger pointing towards the important part.

Maniculae are a fairly common find in medieval manuscripts and came in all forms: small hands, big hands, multiple hands. Dr. Erik Kwakkel posted a fine example of an “octopus manicula”:

Dr. Erik Kwakkel’s example of “octopus manicula”
Dr. Erik Kwakkel’s example of “octopus manicula”

Some maniculae are so particular that when you would see one, you might be able to identify the author of it! For example: If the reader would draw a particular six-fingered manicula all the time, that would give away his identity pretty quickly.

But did maniculae die with the death of manuscripts? Well, today very few people draw entire hands to point out an important section of a book (hipsters maybe do, I wouldn’t be surprised). Today we mostly underline or highlight, use an exclamation mark, or, sometimes, an arrow. But in the 1600- and 1700’s maniculae would still be used in printed books.
today very few people draw entire hands to point out an important section of a book

Maniculae in Printed Books

I had the privilege to browse through some of the books from the Elsevier Heritage Collection. I was particularly interested in a 1646 edition of the Opera Mathematica by François Viète (1540-1603), edited by Frans van Schooten (1615-1660).

Beside the fascinating mathematical annotations in the margin and on the binding, a small manicula caught my attention and got me thinking: “Fascinating. Still using a manicula!”.

As I kept browsing through the old paper pages I came across something even more interesting:

Manicula and Underlining in a printed book
Manicula and Underlining in a printed book

Manicula AND underlining. The ink of the lines and the manicula seemed the same; this passage must have been something particularly interesting for the reader!

To me, the presence of a manicula, the underlining and the printed letters is such a fascinating mix. This book seems like a bridge between the old school of manuscripts, and the new practices of printed books.

The Elsevier Heritage Collection

The Elsevier Heritage Collection in Amsterdam is home to over 2000+ fascinating books that were printed between 1580 and 1712. They are all preserved in museum quality, acclimatized display shelves.

They recently started a new Facebook page in which they share their treasures and interesting information. Worth a like!

Bonus picture:

Elzeviers’ French Bible (Amsterdam, 1669)
Elzeviers’ French Bible (Amsterdam, 1669)

The European Library Widget

Knights medieval manuscript

A Widget for Book Lovers

A few days ago, while looking at the newstream of the Sexy Codicology Facebook Page, we notice the European Library promoting their widget. We contacted them and asked if it was possible to install the widget also on our blog. This lead to an exchange of emails that helped us installing the widget. In 24 hours, after a bit of tweaking on our side, the plugin was installed and ready to be used.

Today, we got promoted on their Facebook Page.

Useless to say, we are very proud to have their widget on our website. Hopefully, this will help you readers discover and fall in love even more with manuscripts.

This widget allows you to search for anything you might be interested in and that might be contained in a library. In our case: medieval manuscripts, but also papyri, scrolls, incunabula, early printed editions, etc. Personally, I wanted to test the plugin and I searched for the name of the author of a manuscript I love: “Dioscordies”. The results came out and I got lost browsing for hours. As usual.

Knights Shaking Hands, over the widget!
MS. Bodl. 264, pt. I: Knights Shaking Hands.


Where to find the Widget

You can find the widget here.

It is fairly easy to install. In case there are any issues, you can contact the European Library. They will surely help you. You might notice that our widget looks slightly different. We made some modifications to the code to make it better fit in our website. Clearly, slightly more complex coding, but not necessary in many cases. Just copy and paste the code that is given and you will be fine 99% of the times!

Share the word!

Bottom line is: If you have a blog or a website, do implement the widget. It’s very easy to install and it is a big added value to all you write.

Also, make sure to like the European Library Facebook page and visit their website. Most importantly, if you know anyone who owns a website or a blog related to books, make sure to mention him/her the widget!

The Adventures of Medieval Bunny, Part I: The Killer Rabbit

Psychotic Killer Rabbit

The Killer Rabbit in Medieval Manuscripts

Back in early May 2013 we came across some intriguing and awesome marginalia of rabbits in medieval manuscripts, in curious situations and topsy-turvy worlds, among which we found the killer rabbit!

On May 10th we posted this picture on our Facebook Page:

The Original Killer Rabbit
The Original Killer Rabbit. – BL. Add. 49622 f. 149v.

As imaginable, the first thing that this marginal decoration reminded our followers of was the hilarious scene of the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, in Monty Python’s famous movie: Monty Python and the Holy Grail.


Eric Idle approves:

Often, in medieval manuscripts’ marginalia we find odd images with all sorts of monsters, half man-beasts, monkeys, and more; even in religious books the margins sometimes have drawings that simply are making fun of monks, nuns and bishops. For example: The monkey is a popular animal to take over the human role in the marginal decorations; but so is the rabbit, along with many other animals.

In this blog post we like to show you images of bunnies that have decided to go killer or ninja, the Bunnies striking back!

Hunting the Medieval Killer Rabbit in Illuminated Manuscripts

Hunting scenes are common in medieval manuscripts’ marginalia. This usually means that the bunny is the hunted; however, as we discovered, often the illuminators decided to change the roles around, ending up with something like this miniature here:

Psychotic Killer Rabbit
A psychotic killer rabbit from – Paris, Bibl. de la Sorbonne, ms. 0121, f. 023

The Hare as a Medieval Symbol

Here at Sexy Codicology, we got curious and asked ourselves: “What do Bunnies represent in Medieval Culture?”
A very useful primary source to consult is a medieval Bestiary (a so-called “Book of Beasts”), a genre of manuscripts typical of England, which present a collection of various animals’ descriptions, both real and mythical ones. In these books it is also explained what their symbolism was in the middle ages, and what they represented within Christian religion. For example: the panther was thought to be a “multi-coloured beast” that breathed “a very sweet smell” that would attract other animals; the beaver would amputate its testicles because it knew that the hunter wanted them alone, rather than the whole animal, in order to make a powerful medicine; or the foul dragon (aka, the Devil), the only arch-enemy of the elephant and the panther (aka, Jesus Christ).
As it is easy to understand, these texts contained myths and superstitions and had quite the share of fantasy in them. Their main objective was to moralize the reader. Today, Bestiaries are fascinating sources that give us a peek into the medieval mind and culture. The information that people would get from these manuscripts would influence their daily lives, to a certain point.
Yes, but, what about the hare? Well, the hare, called by its latin name ‘lepus’, also has a entry in the Bestiaries and, of course, it has a Christian symbol behind it: In theory, the hare represented the man that feared God, but put his trust in him, and not in people (unlike the hedgehog… but that is another story.)
From a more scientific point of view, Pliny the Elder tell us:

The white hares of the Alps are thought to eat snow in the winter, for they turn color when the snow melts. Some say that the hare is as many years old as it has folds in its bowels, and that it is a hermaphrodite that can reproduce without a mate. (Natural History, Book 8, 81)

The link between the Killer Rabbit and Monty Python

Speaking about Pliny the Elder, it is extremely interesting to read what he has to say about rabbits:

The fertility of rabbits is enormous. By eating all the crops, rabbits brought famine to the Balearic Islands, to such extent that the people there petitioned Augustus to send troops to fight the beasts. Rabbits are hunted with ferrets. (Natural History, Book 8, 81)

FANTASTIC! Pliny actually mentions a desired military action against Rabbits! Which were actually killer rabbits, since they caused death through famine! Who knows, maybe Graham Chapman, or John Cleese, or Eric Idle, or Terry Gilliam, or Terry Jones, or Michael Palin (writers of Monty Python and the Holy Grail) came across Pliny’s writing and took inspiration from it… in the end most of them studied between Oxford and Cambridge; Chapman, especially, studied medicine and might have given a look at Pliny’s work… But these are all conjectures.
Anyway, sometimes the medieval bunnies just want to have some fun and do a game of jousting with their animal friends rather than killing knights.

Jousting Bunny
The jousting bunny against the jousting dog – Verdun, Bibl. mun., ms. 0107 (?)  BL Yates Thompson 8 f. 294r

Clearly, the illuminators of these manuscripts we have shown did not have the intention to represent the bunny as it was described in the bestiaries. These are drolleries, a particular type of marginalia, popular in Europe between the 13th and the 15th century. In these kind of decorations you can often find various creatures and monsters behaving in an odd way.
Animals, on the other hand, were often given human traits. Just like in the killer rabbits above.
Stay tuned for more episodes of The Adventures of Medieval Bunny!

And beware of the killer rabbit…

Putting the Sexy in Sexy Codicology

Sexy Codicology, Year II

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term “Sexy” the following way:

generally attractive or interesting : appealing <a sexy stock>

And that is what Codicology is to me: Attractive and Interesting.

The Sexy Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry
The Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry
France, 1408/1409
Our Facebook page new cover.

While I was thinking of a name for this blog, Sexy Codicology was among the first names that clicked in my mind. I thought it was catchy and well represented the interest that codicology can rise. And so this project begun.

After more than one year, the scene has grown: I am very pleased in seeing many people sharing more and more images of medieval manuscripts and illuminations over the social media. It makes me genuinely happy. I come across great posts and links that make me love manuscripts even more.

But then I asked myself: what can we do more, here at Sexy Codicology?

In my studies of Aesthetics and Heuristics, back in the days of my BA, I came across the Socialist Realism movement. It believed that the value of art was to serve some moral or didactic purpose. Stripped of all its political sides, this was the idea behind Sexy Codicology: Use the beauty of manuscripts to spread love and knowledge about manuscripts.

It worked, for a while. But then it became the  movement’s opposite: Théophile Gautier’s art pour l’art, art for art’s sake. I see it as an unavoidable development. But, as anyone deeply influenced by the Russian avant-garde of the early 20th century, I asked myself: what can I do more? What’s the next step? How can we put the Sexy back in Sexy Codicology?

Continue reading →

A Few Words on the Digitized Medieval Manuscripts Map

Mappa Mundi

Uncharted  Manuscripts’ Territory, charted.

We have all seen those medieval maps on manuscripts: Fascinating! So fascinating that here at Sexy Codicology we decided to create several of our own: The Maps of Digitized Manuscripts Available Online.

The aim is simple: Create maps that link to digitized special collections, so that everyone, at any time, can explore medieval manuscripts on their own.

Mappa Mundi
Vatikan, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. lat. 1362 B, Andreas Walsperger

The Good Points

  • The time is right.

The time is right to do something like this: Maps are available online, the tools are easy to use. All that was missing, I believe, was the idea and the will to do something like this. Moreover, there is a clear interest for medieval manuscripts through the internet. The clearly exercise a fascination on thousands of people and want to have an access to these objects.

  • It’s easy to use and update.

The maps take advantage of Google Map Engine Lite. It reads a datasheet and creates the pins on the map. Clearly format the datasheet, carefully enter the data and it is done. Adding new elements and correcting the old ones is extremely easy and fast.

  • Open access, culture for everyone.

This project is intended to be free for everyone: Everyone will be free to access the data and use it for any purpose.

  • Fascinating results ahead

Data visualization is something I personally love: having a lot of data summed up and presented in a clear way leads to great information. With the maps completed as much as possible, we will be able to see gaps in digitization, have a place where to access thousands and thousands of manuscripts, explore objects long forgotten.

The Issues

It’s a big project, and there are problems. For example:

  • Links can break.

A library might decide to renew their digital special collections website, along with that the links to that particular section, making it no longer accessible from the map.

  • The number of digitized manuscripts varies every day.

Take the British Library, for example. They are wonderful at what they do, and digitize manuscripts all the time. One day there are 800 digitized manuscripts, the next day 850 (exaggerating, but it explains the issue).

  • This project is being created for free, and has to use tools available for free (and therefore limited).

We are using Google Map Engine Lite. This means that, for every map, we can insert maximum 300 links to digitized collections. Not enough to cover all Europe in one map. We have decided to divide Europe in four parts: Northern Europe, Western Europe, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe. This will allow us to stay within our sensational 0 Euro budget.

  • The Libraries are not placed precisely on the maps.

Libraries are placed on the map by the city they are in. This means that if a city has more than one library, they will overlap. The dataset is correct, but not the map. We are aware of this and the issue will be fixed in later versions of the maps.

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