A herd for a book. Today we can hardly imagine that! In the Middle Ages, however, the pages of manuscripts were often made of animal skin. For large books you would need a considerable number of animals. This, among other things, explains why manuscripts are so expensive and so rare.
The pages of medieval manuscripts were most often made of goat, sheep or calf hides. The hides were first treated and then stretched on a frame to dry. Once dry, you can speak of parchment. The parchment is cut and folded in quires before writing on it.
How many skins for a manuscript?
The number of skins one needs depends not only on the dimensions and the number of folios of the manuscript, but also on the size of the animals whose skin is used. The Rijmbijbel (Rhymed Bible), for example, has 218 folios (436 pages) measuring 30 by 22 cm. They are made from calf skin. Depending on the size of the animals, 4 to 6 folios can be cut from one skin. To produce this manuscript, one therefore needed between 36 and 53 calf skins.
With holes and eyes
If the animal had bites or wounds, the holes in the skin widened when processed. This creates “eyes” in the hides. Even if damaged, parchment was so precious that it still was used… Therefore, you regularly find holes and scars on the pages of a manuscript. Sometimes they are even decorated by copyists or miniaturists. That way the previous life of the page is put in the spotlight.
Would you, just by touching it, notice the difference between paper and parchment? At the KBR museum, you will learn more about the production of medieval manuscripts.
Get to know the KBR museum through a series of facts that take you back to the time of the Burgundian dukes. Discover the knowledge hidden in the manuscripts of their library and learn more about the themes in the museum that will open soon.
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