Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
Book of Hours, early 16th century. From a private collection. Photographs © Dianne Tillotson.

This leaf comes from a book of hours produced in France around 1520 to 1540. By this date, printed books of hours were being produced in Paris, so this represents the last moments of the manuscript tradition for this very popular work. The script, a humanistic minuscule, has many features of style derived from contemporary typefaces and does not look like a comfortable script to write. While the page has the traditional features of rubric headings and illuminated initials, the gold washed rope border is a novel feature. There might be a temptation to call it Renaissance styling if there was any association between the rediscovery of Classical literature, the development of humanistic thinking, new scientific methods of pictorial depiction and a pile of old rope, but as I cannot think of one, let us just say it departs from the traditional medieval page design.

The text, beginning from the large illuminated initial, is the prayer to the Virgin Mary generally referred to as the Obsecro Te, after the first two words. This is one of a number of prayers that can be found in the book of hours that allows the lay user into intimate communication with the Virgin, without intercession by a member of the clergy. It is preceded on the page by the end of another Latin prayer. It is intriguing that the wording differs slightly in several places from that given in the translation cited below, indicating that even a relatively standard text developed variants through the manuscript tradition.

It is tempting to wonder whether a book like this would have been a high status item because of its painstaking method of production in the new era of larger scale reproduction by printing, or whether it was simply produced for those old fashioned folks who were having nothing to do with this new devilish technology. I guess we shall never know.

An English translation of the Obsecro Te can be found in RogerS. Wieck 1988 Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life New York: George Braziller Inc. This is about the best book for discovering the book of hours as a working artifact, rather than simply a collection of medieval paintings. It also contains an illustration of a page from a book of hours which appears to be the twin of this one.

| overview | initials | text | alphabet | abbreviations | exercises | transcript | translation |

Click on each of the above to walk your way through the text. The transcript will appear in a separate window so that you can use it for reference at any time. These exercises are designed to guide you through the text, not test you, so you can cheat as much as you like.
Script sample for this example
Index of Exercises
Index of Scripts

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This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome. Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 19/7/2006.