Scriptorium - San Giovanni Evangelista, Rimini

San Giovanni Evangelista, Rimini

At this church whose patron was Galla Placidia (died 450), paired rectangular chambers flanking the apse, accessible only from each aisle, have been interpreted as paired (Latin and Greek) libraries and perhaps scriptoria. Their copious illumination, niches .5 meter deep, provisions for hypocausts beneath the floors to keep the spaces dry, have prototypes in the architecture of Roman libraries.

When monastic libraries and scriptoria arose in the early 6th century (the first European monastic writing dates from 517), they defined European literary culture and selectively preserved the literary history of the West. Monks copied Jerome's Latin Vulgate Bible and the commentaries and letters of early Church Fathers for missionary purposes as well as for use within the monastery. The products of the scriptorium provided a valuable medium of exchange. Within the scriptorium, there was typically a division of labor between the monks who readied the parchment for copying by smoothing and chalking the surface, those who ruled the parchment and copied the text, and those who illuminated the text. Sometimes a single monk would engage in all of these stages to prepare a manuscript. By the start of the 13th century, monastic manuscript production declined because secular copyshops had developed to write for the laity. These were closely followed by urban bookshops circa 1250 that before the introduction of printing in the last quarter of the fifteenth century had already virtually replaced the monastery as a source for books.

The individual traditions of scriptoria developed in incomplete isolation, to the extent that the modern paleographer learns to identify the product of each scriptorium and date it approximately by comparison with other, datable productions of that scriptorium. At the same time, comparisons of the characteristic "hand" of scriptoria reveal social and cultural connections among them, as new hands developed and were disseminated by travelling individuals and by the examples of manuscripts that passed from one library to another.

The illuminators of manuscripts worked in collaboration with scribes in intricate variety of interaction that preclude any simple pattern of monastic manuscript production.

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