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Materiality

Prayer Book of Philip II

Prayer Book of Philip II

Book of Hours of Doña Mencía de Mendoza<br />

Book of Hours of Doña Mencía de Mendoza

Book of Beasts

Book of Beasts

Today when we pick up a book—or a tablet for that matter—we are usually more interested in the information that the object contains and what it will relay than in the material of the object itself. The paper pages or illuminated screen are a means to an end. Hand-made manuscripts, however, were valued as objects in addition to being valued for the content contained in their folios. Composed of animal skin, which was converted into durable parchment during a long, labor-intensive process, a manuscript carried multiple significations, be it wealth, spiritual superiority, or knowledge. As a result, the material attention given to the codex paralleled the understood value of that object in medieval society.

      For medieval books, this material attention took two forms. First, the exterior binding and decorative embellishments relayed a book’s importance to those who would only see the closed codex, for example the laity in a liturgical procession. Second, in the more intimate setting of a scriptorium, the scribes who crafted the books and inscribed the texts on the parchment folios paid attention to the uses of materials as a way to convey the significance of the content throughout the entirety of the book. The facsimiles of the Prayer Book of Philip II and the Book of Hours of Doña Mencía de Mendoza and the precision of their physical replication show how a variety of materials in individual originals can communicate layers of meaning, and also how as contemporary books they become prestigious additions to library collections. The Liber Bestiarum is not a true replica of the original codex, yet its hand-stamped, Nigerian goatskin leather binding and glittering illuminations augment the status of this facsimile as a limited collectible issued by the Folio Society. Thus, while the content within the book mimics the original, the renovated exterior speaks to the continued attention given to materiality as status in the contemporary era. 

[RH]