Liberal Arts and Education
BPL 91 (Italy, 1100-1200): Priscianus, Institutiones Grammaticae (Institutes of Grammar), parchment, 175 fols., 202 x 164 mm, 1 col., 37 lines.

The margins of this twelfth-century manuscript contain many glosses. They were added in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth-centuries, and show how this manuscript passed from one owner to the next, several of whom wrote their names on fol. 175v. The note at the bottom of the page reads that this manuscript belonged to the “commune bonorum puerorum”, the “society of honorable boys”, in the fourteenth century. The boys of this society probably used this manuscript to study grammar, as it contains Priscian’s Institutiones grammaticae (Institutes of Grammar) – a text that was very popular amongst advanced students of grammar at the time (See also BPL 186).

The manuscript is decorated with beautifully colored initials. Unfortunately, the first leaves of the manuscript were partly eaten by rodents. The flyleaves at the back of the manuscript are made from badly damaged parchment1 (see the holes and the stitches). Scribes have used the first page of these flyleaves to test their pens by scribbling down words and symbols. The rusty brown stain in the middle of this page probably covers an owner mark. The following two pages of the flyleaves were used in the fourteenth century to add more glosses. Someone has even added a remark in Hebrew.

(Gumbert, 2009, p. 48) (Gerritsen, 2007, pp. 9-13)


  1. When the quires were filled with text, the rubrics were in place, and the scribe had corrected his work, it was time for the finishing touches. Many medieval books contain some kind of decoration in addition to the written words. What kind of decoration can you find in this manuscript? Give three examples.
  2. Book design was not only influenced by the manner in which the book would be used, but also by its contents. This is not surprising, of course, since contents and use are closely related: you generally use a book because of the texts it contains. Perform a modest online search about the text in this book and assess for what reason or reasons it was commonly used (education, church rituals, reference, professional use, etc.). Now try to relate the contents of the book to the material features it was given. Can you relate the two? Which material features you observe make sense now you know more about the text? Are there any that don’t?


  1. Gumbert, J. P. (2009). Illustrated Inventory of Medieval Manuscripts in Latin script in the Netherlands. Verloren.
  2. Gerritsen, W. P. (2007). Europa’s leerschool: de zeven vrije kunsten in de Middeleeuwen. Een rondgang langs Leidse handschriften. Primavera Pers.