Giving My Presentation at the Rare Books and Manuscript Library

Source: Calligraphy and Drawings by Giraldo Fernandez de Prado

While presenting my research on the history of the use of animal skins in the production of medieval manuscripts, I realized how beneficial it was for me to have the class meet in the Rare Books and Manuscript Library, among the manuscript collections that I studied in order to learn more about how both parchment and paper have been utilized as the materials for manuscripts, during the medieval era and beyond. Having the collections present while I provided contextual and factual information about each one made all the difference especially because, in this process, I have learned that there is a great deal of information to be learned about the topic, and that it is not always easy to condense into a short class presentation. In addition, I had provided a supplementary reading to the class in the form of the article Parchment making in eighteenth century France: historical practices and the written record by Alexis Hagadorn. The article provides a useful overview of the parchment-making process, which I believed was important for the class to read about so they could fully appreciate the level of skill and work involved in producing the manuscript collections that I would show during the class.

After presenting on Roman de la Rose, On Mixed Life, and Specimens of Parchment (with notes by Ronald Reed), among other manuscript collections, I began speaking about the manuscripts "Calligraphy" and "Drawings" by Giraldo Fernandez de Prado, who is considered to be the first expert on calligraphy in Portugal. Initially, I had confused this collection with On Mixed Life because both resemble hardcover books (even though On Mixed Life's material is parchment and "Calligraphy" is paper). After my professor corrected me, I remembered its unique qualities that I remembered from when I viewed the collection during a previous research visit. From its opening title pages (the second appears as the background image for this post: additional descriptive notes for that image are available in the link above), I recalled my initial appreciation of the high level of skill involved in creating the beautifully detailed letters and images. Now, however, when reflecting more about my impression of the work during my presentation, I am realizing that the paper itself does not provide a great deal of information about the history of how "Calligraphy" and "Drawings" came to be in their current state, in comparison with, for example, the first manuscript collection that I presented, Roman de la Rose (made out of parchment).

However, what dominated a large part of our class discussion was focusing on the fact that some of the pages in "Calligraphy" were glued together, preventing us from viewing all of the illustrations. Its entry on Digital Scriptorium (see link above) does not provide any concrete answers. Regardless of the reason, we concluded that it was a shame that it had to have occurred at all, because it now means that we have fewer traits to help us identify additional information about the collection itself. Above all, I believe this theme best encapsulates the objective of my presentation: to bring to light the complicated legacy of the use of both parchment and paper in the production of manuscripts and other literary works.

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