Hands with pointing fingers are quite normal in medieval books. Readers drew them in the margins to identify passages they found important or useful. The hands in this image, however, are not normal: they are extravagant and, quite frankly, weird. They are very different from the subtle gestures we usually encounter. For one thing, they are not drawn with a pen, as is normally the case, but painted. This is significant because it implies that they were not done on the fly, but carefully planned in advance. A book like this was made commercially, which means that the reader hired a professional artist to paint the hands (and, by the way, also himself, in this image in front of the book). This, in turn, implies that the passages marked by the fingers had special significance to the book’s owner, who must have pointed them out to the artist when he commissioned it. They may look silly, these illustrations, but they have quite a story to tell.
Pic: Paris, BnF, Fr. MS 12584, containing a 14th-century copy of the Old French Reynard the Fox. Check out the entire manuscript, with more images, here. Check this Tumblr I posted a while back with some other unusual pointing fingers. Here is blog by @sexycodicology on pointing hands in early-modern books.
Rose’s Book Photo Challenge - January 2015: Writing in the Margins
I started doing this around a year ago and I’m glad I did because I find it interesting to flip through the books I’ve read and annotated before. Even seeing what I wrote in this one (Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge) was fun, although I read it less than half a year ago. It’s like writing to your future self! I also enjoy reading other people’s marginalia in library books, but I’d never write in them myself because that’s just wrong. And pointless.
It’s almost finals week, so some of you may need to brush up on your canon law. With this in mind we are featuring Clemintinae Constitutiones, printed in 1479. This is a compendium of writings from various popes, collected through the 13th and 14th centuries. While the binding has seen better days, the interior of the book is in pretty good shape, and even includes some illumination. In early printed books, there were often spaces left at the beginning of sentences for hand-drawn initials to be added later. Sometimes these were filled in by whoever bought the book, sometimes by illuminators (if you wanted to be fancy and had some money) and sometimes they were left blank. After these first two capitals, the illumination stops, and all we have are blanks, like the one shown in the last photo. Despite the beautiful letters, I think my favorite part is the margin note spoken by a man who peers out of the text.