The Codex

The Codex or illuminated manuscript is a glorious technique typically known as the product of the medieval Christian church, but many ignore that this tradition had its foundation and origin in the ancient times. It is impossible to establish a particular date in history and assign it to the “invention” of the manuscript. But we can certainly trace this practice back to nearly four thousand years ago and to ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire. They were first manufactured in papyrus, which grew in Egypt; and with the construction of the Library of Alexandria in Egypt the production and desire for written material ignited. And thus, eventually, other civilizations wanted to keep up with the idea of knowledge preservation and different attempts were made throughout history to conceive a writing material that matched or surpassed the amenities of papyrus. In this environment of competition for knowledge, the Library of Pergamum is held responsible for the invention of parchment. This moment marked a turning point in the art of book making, as the parchment clearly exceeded the papyrus and provided new commodities for writing. When scribes started to write in codices, parchment, progressively, began to supplant the papyrus scrolls of Antiquity. As civilization advanced and the demand for manuscripts became greater, more and more copies of original ancient writings were made, so rare early codices are surprisingly similar in general appearance to works written a millennium later. Until the late Middle Ages, the great majority of western manuscripts were written in monasteries by scribes, who enjoyed the highest social status in their communities. Evolving over the centuries, illuminated manuscripts shifted from being used for religious purposes to becoming means of mass communication. And so, the fate of the codex was undoubtedly more brilliant than that of its predecessor, the papyrus; as it played a decisive role in history’s knowledge preservation. Introducing the world to illuminated manuscripts resulted in the change of civilization and how medieval societies view and experienced the world, opening the door to further progress. This craft was so powerful that in XV century it became the model for Johan Guttenberg’s movable type printing press, and even some time after this historical event illuminated manuscripts were still being produced as valuable and precious works of art.

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