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Mozart: Sonata in A major, K. 331, performed by Zoltán Kocsis on a copy of a Walter fortepiano
The variation theme of the 1st movement

National Széchényi Library, Budapest
26 September 2014

Doodle by bored medieval school boy

This 15th-century doodle is found in the lower margin of a manuscript containing Juvenal’s Satires. This classical text was a popular device to teach young students - kids - morals. The medieval teacher Alexander Nequam stated: “Let the student read the satirists […] so that he may learn even in his younger days that vices are to be shunned” (quote here). Spoken like a true optimist, because this page shows what young school boys like to do with rules: disobey them. And so in stead of studying the student who used this book drew a funny doodle in the lower margin: a figure with a flower in one hand and what appears to be a pipe in the other. Could it be his teacher? Doodles are of all ages but those produced by bored school kids are the most entertaining.

Pic: Carpentras, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 368 (here). Here is another example of school kids doodling.

6

Losing yourself in a labyrinth

Here is something special I happened upon by coincidence in a French database today. These unique drawings are found in a handwritten book from 1611 produced by Nicolas de Rély, a monk from Corbie. We know little about the author and the book is relatively unknown in scholarship, which is kind of amazing considering its topic: a study of medieval labyrinths. These large objects were mazes of up to 40 feet in diameter, built into the floor of cathedrals of twelfth and thirteenth-century Europe (see Chartres Cathedral, lower image). Church visitors, which included a lot of pilgrims, had to undertake a journey to its centre - the latter on their knees, by means of repentance. The labyrinth is also an intellectual exercise, of creating an object of perfect harmony, of balance and calculation, like the Gothic cathedrals which housed them. The monk in the early 17th century was so fascinated by them that he devoted a study to their shapes and routes, replicating them in detail: what a beautiful way to lose yourself!

Pic: Amiens, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 405 (dated 1611). More images and some more information here. More information of labyrinths here and in this PDF. More about the Amiens labyrinth here.

Writers, What do you do when your ideas run dry?

Writers, What do you do when your ideas run dry?

I have a notebook that I write all my ideas down in. It’s my brainstorming tool. Whenever I start planning something new, the notebook comes out, and I write whatever comes to mind. I have pages upon pages of character ideas, settings, scenes, conflict ideas… the list goes on and on.

Last night, I opened up my notebook and sat down to write and nothing came out. Nothing! I literally sat there…

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6

Smart page with string

These pages from a late-16th-century scientific manuscript share a most unusual feature: they contain a string that runs through a pierced hole. Dozens of them are found in this book. The pages contain diagrams that accompany astronomical tracts. They show such things as the working of the astrolabe (Pic 1), the position of the stars (Pic 4), and the movement of the sun (Pic 6). The book was written and copied by the cartographer Jean du Temps of Blois (born 1555), about whom little appears to be known. The book contains a number of volvelles or wheel charts: revolving disks that the reader would turn to execute calculations. The strings seen in these images are another example of the “hands-on” kind of reading the book facilitates. Pulling the string tight and moving it from left to right, or all the way around, would connect different bits of data, like a modern computer: the string drew a temporary line between two or more values, highlighting their relationship. The tiny addition made the physical page as smart as its contents.

Pics: London, British Library, Harley MS 3263: more on this book here; and full digital reproduction here.

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