Lab 4: Thinking with the Codex

Thinking with the Codex

The Golden Haggadah

  • 1320
  • medieval manuscript
  • size unknown - site does not give dimensions
  • parchment
  • many colors of ink, predominantly black, red, and blue
  • gold leaf decoration
  • illustrated section
  • large decorated words

The “Dragon Prayer Book”

  • after 1461
  • medieval manuscript
  • small - maybe 3 by 4 inches, and maybe 3 inches thick
  • almost square shaped
  • parchment
  • section tabs
  • black, red, and blue ink
  • some letters use more than one color
  • large fancy letters mark paragraph beginnings, possibly, and regular-sized but colored ones may start sentences

P. Ovidii Nasonis Amatoria

  • 1546
  • Renaissance printed text
  • small - maybe 3 by 5 inches, less than an inch thick
  • rectangular, resembles a book that you might be able to purchase today
  • ink blotting, fading unevenly
  • cross-hatched handmade paper
  • page numbers and section headers
  • only black ink
  • only very occasional large decorative letters at the beginning of sections


The Haggadah and the Dragon Prayer Book were both medieval manuscripts compiled before the advent of the printing press but separated by over a hundred years. The size of the Haggadah is unknown to me but I may estimate, given the level of detail in the illustrated pages, that it runs closer to what we would consider a standard book size - maybe closer to a foot long as its largest dimension. The Ovid, like the Dragon Prayer Book, is small - pocket sized, or easy to transport. The Haggadah meanwhile was meant for home use, another factor which I may point to when guessing that it may be larger-sized. Both the Ovid and the Dragon Prayer Book as well have markers of some sort (page numbers and section headers, or tabs on the edges of the pages) which allow a reader to easily find their place again. The Haggadah has nothing of that sort, perhaps being meant to be left open at home.

All three books are of a religious significance, meant for personal use. The Haggadah, with its gold leaf detailing, obviously belonged to a rich owner. The Ovid meanwhile, mass-printed by a printing press, could have been owned by anyone, but probably a clergymember, as its language I believe is Latin. The Dragon Prayer Book probably was owned by clergy as well. It would not have been as expensive as the gold leaf Haggadah, but in its age, a parchment manuscript would not have been cheap.

The advent of mass printing simplified what was found in books. There was not space for the detailed illustrations and colors of the Dragon Prayer Book or the Haggadah - that time and care was not put into each individual printed book. The Ovid does not have the colors or the illustrations, but just a few decorative letters at the beginning of sections and one woodcut image at the opening. The stricter form of the print-setting would not allow the flourishes in the middle of every page, as the emphasized letters in the Dragon Prayer Book and words in the Haggadah. The Ovid is much less of something that I would consider a work of art; the Dragon Prayer Book has its artistic flourishes and its calligraphy is beautiful, though it too pales to the detailed illustrations and gold leaf of the Haggadah. As time goes on, the codex becomes more accessible and less detailed.

Though the Ovid was printed by a standard printing press, I felt that its text appeared the messiest and in several places the page numbers were smeared or ink was blotted. The work of the manuscripts by contrast is much more careful and neatly written. Perhaps the printer of the Ovid was still practicing their techniques, while the scribes of the Haggadah and the Dragon Prayer Book were well-practiced experts. Printing in Europe was a hundred years old at the time of the Ovid’s printing, but I imagine that it may still have taken time for each individual printer to learn the technique.