Pictorial sources in books

Nerd alert.

I was reading a (modern classic) book about medieval costume in different centuries. The book was written in the 1960s, when pictorial evidence was hard to come by. “The British Museum has published a photograph postcard of the tomb effigy, which is rather good.” Now, the book mentions manuscript & effigy sources for all of its pictures, down to the part of individual work. (All but a few plates are black-and-white redrawn images, from looking at the manuscript illustrations, I assume. Must have taken a lot of work!)

Since we now live in the Age of the Archive, these references are golden doors to so much content. One of the texts was called “Lives of the Offas”. So, I entered that into a search engine and was rewarded with a wealth of information about this source, its author, its role in history et cetera.

The Vitae duorum Offarum. This was the entryway article. There’s just so much information.

One of the source notes included mention of a “D1”, which I learned was a library ID for a manuscript: List of manuscripts in the Cotton library. Wow, the Robert Bruce Cotton way of organizing was interesting:

Robert Bruce Cotton organized his library in a room 26 feet (7.9 m) long by six feet wide filled with bookpresses, each with the bust of a figure from classical antiquity on top. Counterclockwise, these were Julius Caesar, Augustus, Cleopatra, Faustina, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. (Domitian had only one shelf, perhaps because it was over the door).

Anyway, I had a lot of fun learning to identify early-medieval dress details in pictures.

Bonus: Vair is called gråverk in Swedish. That is “gray-work”.

Published by olleolleolle

Olle is a programmer, enjoying sunny Malmö in Sweden.

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1 Comment

  1. You inspire me to realize that, with the web overlaid, pre-Internet source materials have new life breathed into them. When I read books from the 1890s about letterpress printing, I can Google “lamp black” and understand more about what it is and where to get it. We don’t appear to have maximized the potential of this: is there prior art in adding a hypertext layer to old works?

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