‘For What Purpose Do They Spend?’ Some Preliminary Thoughts on Penwork Produced by William de Brailes and his Collaborators
Marginalia, Vol. 9, (2009)
In the catalogue description of six leaves from a Psalter attributed to William de Brailes (Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 330), Paul Binski comments that ‘[i]lluminated Bibles produced in France and England [in the thirteenth century] tended to shrink, producing miracles of compression. The rise of the universities at Paris, Oxford and Cambridge at this time precipitated an unprecedented and growing demand for small, portable Bibles, the core text of these new institutions. The development of complex penwork is a paradoxical progression in this context. Even as the books were reduced in size, physical decoration – the largely red, blue, and for deluxe productions, gold, delicate flowing lines which emanate from the scribal text produced with an extremely finely cut nib – was developed and expanded.