Introduction to the manuscript portraits.

The manuscripts speak for themselves1

Manuscripts are books written by hand (manu-scriptum), and the very fact that they are written by hand makes them fundamentally different from printed books. Each book is the result of a vast number of individual decisions, reflecting the time and circumstance of the maker and/or commissioner of the book: its style and format, its content, its execution, etcetera.2

Leiden, UB, BPL 144, fol. 18r (detail)

In scholarly books (books produced for schools, private study or specifically for use at medieval universities) the imprint of the user of a book is often very recognisable: the page offers ample space for notes that can be added to the text, and these notes are rich sources of information of how texts were read, used and processed by their readers. They reveal the ways in which texts were used and worked with.

Paris, BnF, Lat. 2788, fol. 50r. Manuscript with Boethius’ Opuscula sacra and Aristotle’s Categories, with commentaries from Remigius of Auxerre. Fleury, last quarter of the 10th century.

For this site, The art of reasoning in medieval manuscripts, we chose 14 manuscripts, spread across the medieval period and made in different parts of medieval Europe, to illustrate the techniques of medieval reading and studying. All of them have texts that were used in the study of rhetoric (the art of public speaking) and dialectic (the art of logical argumentation), because these two disciplines together were essential for the art of reasoning.

The examples are random in the sense that we did not strive for a selection of the most important, oldest or prettiest examples: rather we chose them because they convey the story of how medieval readers made sense of their texts and how they used them to develop their own methods of reasoning.

Row of books from Leiden University Library. Photo Karin Scheper (curator).

For each manuscript we take you on a journey through its interesting features and curious details. They are manuscript portraits: annotated sketches of the manuscripts’ contents, characters and historical contexts. At the end of each journey, we have a fact-sheet: an overview with the date and place of the manuscript, its size and content as it is available in modern scholarship.

Selfportrait of ‘Frater Rufillus’ in a 12th-century manuscript from (possibly) Weissenau, who depicts himself decorating the manuscript. Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 127, f. 244r (detail).

The manuscripts are presented here in chronological order. We also offer a map of Europe, on which the places or regions where the manuscripts were made are marked. Each manuscript also features in one or more of the themes of this exhibition. So each manuscript can be explored by itself, but also offers side-paths to other stories in the exhibition.

Detail from the ‘Gough Map’, the earliest map of medieval Great Britain, produced (according to recent scholarship) in the 1370’s. A full digital edition is available here:

  1. Cite as, Mariken Teeuwen, “Manuscripts”, The art of reasoning in medieval manuscripts (Dec 2020),

  2. Kwakkel, E. (2015). Decoding the material book: Cultural residue in medieval manuscripts. In M. Johnston & M. Van Dussen (Eds.), The Medieval Manuscript Book: Cultural Approaches (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature, pp. 60-76). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9781107588851.004

undefinedundefined600700800900100011001200130014001500160017001800190020002100VLF 48BPL 88BPL 25Cod. 315(605)lat. 12949lat. 7900ABPL 139Blat. 11127BPL 84GRO 22VLQ 103BPL 144lat. 17806lat. 2923
lat. 17806lat. 7900AVLQ 103BPL 84BPL 25BPL 88BPL 139BBPL 144Cod. 315(605)GRO 22VLF 48lat. 11127lat. 12949lat. 2923
Click on the regions on the map to see the origins of the manuscripts. Or click the name of the manuscript to see the origin.
VLF 48
BPL 88
lat. 12949
lat. 7900A
BPL 25
Cod. 315(605)
BPL 139B
lat. 11127
BPL 84
GRO 22
VLQ 103
BPL 144
lat. 17806
lat. 2923
Leiden, UB, VLF 48
Leiden, UB, BPL 88
Paris, BnF, lat. 12949
Paris, BnF, lat. 7900A
Leiden, UB, BPL 25
Einsiedeln, Stiftsbibliothek, Codex 315 (605)
Leiden, UB, BPL 139B
Paris, BnF, lat. 11127
Leiden, UB, BPL 84
Leiden, UB, GRO 22
Leiden, UB, VLQ 103
Leiden, UB, BPL 144
Paris, BnF, lat. 17806
Paris, BnF, lat. 2923
Note The Art of Resoning in Medieval Manuscripts