Remark on ink layers, and on gallows

A prominent feature of the VM are so-called ‘gallow’ characters.  There are lots of things to observe about them, so I’ll split that into several posts.

Before turning to the gallows themselves, I would like to mention ink color.  Writing with a quill pen leads to a slightly uneven color of the ink accross letters or words, depending on the amount of ink left in the pen, on where the stroke starts, and on the speed of the pen.  So faint or slightly darker characters (or parts of characters) do not necessarily mean that a later emendation has been made there.

With that in mind, it still appears to me that many parts of the manuscript have two layers of text: one very faint (the original one), and then another one on top.  And finally, from time to time, a few charaters have a third, generally much darker, layer or emendation.

I do not know if the second layer was done by the original author trying to just make the text more discernible, or whether it is a later guesswork or emendation by someone else.

Here is a part of f56v which illustrates well these three layers:

The key fact which makes me think it is that way is the leg of the ‘4’ character, whose darker part ends abrubtly and a much fainter part then continues.  It really does not appear as just a change of spead of the same stroke, the color change would be less blunt. Long legs seem to be a feature of that first faint layer on most folios (e.g. looking at the ‘9’ too one usually sees a blunt change of color and a faint long leg belongign to a first layer underneath).

That said, let’s have a look at the gallow character in that picture:  it is very regular, so it probably has been drawn fairly slowly and intentionnally.  And second: it is made entirely of faint ink.    To be more precise, the bottom of the legs appears just a tad bit darker, but definitely not as dark as what I’ve termed ‘second layer’. Is that still something meaningful, or just  a byproduct of gravity on the pigments before complete drying? I do not know for sure, but there’s a possibility that the gallow is made of several parts (more on that in a later post).

So to conclude this post: since the ink color appears only of ‘first layer’ type, one can infer that really this character is there in the original text on that folio.

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One Response to Remark on ink layers, and on gallows

  1. Reed Johnson says:

    Thomas, very interesting post. Besides layering of successive applications of ink, you mention other possible reasons for the varying lightness/darkness of ink, including “the amount of ink left in the pen, on where the stroke starts, and on the speed of the pen.” Related to the last one is pressure: a sensitive pen nib can deposit widely varying amounts of ink depending on subtle gradations of pressure. Another thing you might consider is whether the vellum’s absorbency might vary from spot to spot on the page (which might show up in the same place verso-recto). I think a side-by-side comparison of variations in ink darkness in another manuscript might be interesting. But presumably the physical materials (quality of quills, how much ink they hold, the vellum) and the experience of the scribe might influence this. Anyway, just to say I’m impressed with these careful and detailed observations.

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