Deciphering Secrets – Ruling the lines

I started by examining several manuscripts to get a feel for what I wanted to do.

First stop was the Aberdeen Bestiary.

I started with this page and then looked at several others following.  The page shows triangular marginal pricking and double lines for the frame. The lines are fairly thick compared to the thinnest part of the calligraphy, possibly a plummet, but that’s just a guess.  The text is written just above the ruling line.  The beginning of the text starts mostly at the second line of the frame but sometimes goes over.  As does the ending text.  The illustrations sometimes fill the entire text space, but sometimes are smaller, creating smaller columns of text.  The lines appear to go under the illustrations, but they are heavily painted and it’s a little hard to tell for certain. The date of the Aberdeen Bestiary is 1200.

Next I looked at the Luttrell Psalter here  The ruling lines are very faint and I’m not entirely sure but there may be lines on both the top and bottom of the text (or it may be a shadow from the other side of the page where there is line filler.)  The frame appears to be double lined, but it is very faint.  There is a great deal of painting outside the text area, in the margins, which show evidence of being trimmed.  The pricking holes are not in evidence on the pages I looked at. The Luttrell Psalter dates between 1320 and 1340.

Next I looked at the Hunting Book of Gaston Phoebus.  The entire book is not online but there are postings of individual pages.  The first is here:  The text for the book is set in two columns and the frame is done in single lines. The text is written above the ruled lines.   Another page shows the same thing.  Neither is high enough resolution to show pricking holes.

Trying to find more bestiaries that are online I found this one, Manāfiʻ-i ḥayavān., from Iran dated between 1297-1300 (with later additions done in the 19th Century).  It is framed in red ink in double lines.  The text appears to have no ruling lines. Image is not high enough resolution to see pricking holes.

The last manuscript I looked at was the Jacobus de Voragine: Golden legend dating from around 1370.  The text is set in two columns within a single line frame.  There is no sign of pricking holes.

Because I want to do calligraphy on my vellum quire, I need to be careful about where and how many lines I can fit in my text space.  I measured the size of the bifolium  and then used the Golden Ratio/Golden Mean aka secret canon method to determine how much space the text should take up.


It was sadly much less than I expected, so I went back to the words I’ve written for the project and edited it down, so no section is more than 14 lines.  I decided that to mark the pages, I need to make a template.  Historically, it would probably be made out of vellum, but I don’t have a piece to spare, so I will use cardstock.  Likewise, some kind of awl (or knife) would be used to prick the holes.  My awls are too thick for this job, and my pen knife is also too thick, so I think I will try a push pin.

Making the template has used more modern tools than I would like, on how exactly this process was done.  I used a computer to generate a ruling sheet, and then a light box to transfer the pricking locations to a piece of cardstock.


After the template was made, I did a practice sheet using a lead point aka plummet that I cast a couple of years ago.  (The plummet is made of half lead, half pewter.  It should have been half lead, half tin, but pure tin turned out to be hard to get.  It’s pretty soft and leaves a nice grey line.)

Then I did the first sheet of the bifolium.  I had to be careful to remember which were my framing lines and which were text lines.


I still need to do the other sheet, both sides, but I wanted to get this turned in tonight.  I’ll edit it and add the other sheet as soon as I get it finished.


Added:  Because I want to do this as a coherent book, I only have one ruling pattern.  This is on actual vellum, done with a lead plummet.

Here’s the second page taped before I put the template over it.


And here are both pages both ruled together:


Looking forward to the next part!


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