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Modes of Codex: The Art of the Book from Medieval Fragments to Movable Type and Fine Press Printing: Home

This exhibition focuses on the history of the written word and book production. It begins with ancient manuscripts created by hand on clay, papyrus, stone, wax, wood, parchment, and other materials.

Exhibition poster

Introductory text

Modes of Codex: The Art of the Book from Medieval Fragments to Movable Type and Fine Press Printing

“Codex” is simply another word for “book.” It comes from the Latin caudex, or trunk of a tree. And just like the limbs of a tree, the printed word has spread in complex ways, rooted in the earliest forms of books, or codices, made from content connected or bound by wooden supports.

This exhibition focuses on the history of the written word and book production. It begins with ancient manuscripts created by hand on clay, papyrus, stone, wax, wood, parchment, and other materials.

The promotion of reading and the copying of text by clergy starting in the late sixth century led to a new culture of book production that included beautifully handwritten calligraphy and illuminated illustrations.

In the 15th century Johannes Gutenberg started a new print revolution as the first European to introduce movable type and the printing press. Gutenberg and those who followed him perfected early printing that led to modern book production and distribution.

The exhibition brings us back to the legacy of both ancient scribes and Gutenberg with a glimpse at the 21st-century production of fine press and artist books, including work by UCSB faculty and students.

Codex defined

A codex is a book — at its most basic, the written word on a support medium connected by two boards. In the ancient world, papyrus, used to produce scrolls, was the most common form of support. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, papyrus was too difficult to import, so parchment (animal skin) and vellum (calfskin) became the primary writing mediums for centuries to come.

Before the invention of movable type and the printing press, books were produced by scribes who had specific roles: as calligraphers; copiers; correctors; illuminators, who painted artistic illustrations; and rubricators, who painted in red letters. This work took place in a scriptorium, the workroom of monk copyists. The supervisor, also known as the armarius, directed the work and served as the librarian.


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