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Rare Book School at the University of Virginia

M-20. Introduction to Codicology

Albert Derolez

The principles, bibliography, and methodology of the analysis and description of Western medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. The course includes a survey of the development of the physical features of manuscript books and practical work by the students on particular points. This is a course for non-specialists, but applicants must have considerable background in the historical humanities; in admitting students to the class, the instructor will prefer those with at least an introductory knowledge of Latin.

Traditional research on manuscripts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance is based principally on the study of script and illumination. Without neglecting these important aspects, this course will show that there are other – and sometimes more conclusive – means to approach the codex and to uncover the information it conveys. The course will deal with MS materials, structure, layout, script and decoration, showing how to investigate and describe these features.

It will consist of both lecture and work sessions. The first will cover the principles, bibliography, and methodology of codicology, i.e. the broad analysis and description of Western medieval and Renaissance MSS, as well as general information on materials, structures, script, and decoration. They will also comprise a broad chronological survey of the physical features of manuscript books from Late Antiquity up to the Renaissance. This part of the course will be based on a discussion of slides and the specialized literature.

In the work sessions, students will perform tasks based on printed catalogs of MSS as well as on MSS fragments and complete MSS in the possession of the Walters Art Gallery.

In their personal statement, applicants should describe the degree of their present knowledge of Latin.

Course Resources

Course History

1987

Albert Derolez has taught this course many times since 1987.