Jul 1, 2014
May 24, 2007

Bifolium Excised from a Carolingian Gradual

Bifolium Excised from a Carolingian Gradual

c. 830–60

Part of a set. See all set records

Gold and silver ink on purple parchment

Sheet: 29 x 10 cm (11 7/16 x 3 15/16 in.); Framed: 39.4 x 52.1 x 3.2 cm (15 1/2 x 20 1/2 x 1 1/4 in.)

Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1933.446



This rare leaf comes from a cantatorium or gradual, a book containing the chants to be sung during the Mass. Other leaves from the same book survive in Berlin and Trier. As a bifolium, or double-leaf, it does not contain decorated letters but rather "emphasized" letters. These were enlarged and pushed out into the margins to catch the reader's eye. Such emphasized letters originated in late classical times and were the precursor to the decorated initial developed by medieval scribes. The purple-stained vellum (now faded to a deep pink) with its text written in gold and silver inks (now turned black) suggested great luxury with its sumptuous appearance. In Mediterranean regions, the purple dye was obtained from murex, a shellfish dye. In northern Europe, plant dyes were used as an alternative. Combined with the use of gold and silver ink a spectacular appearance was achieved that is traceable back to classical antiquity.

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