Take my breath away

Covered in beauty: The jeweled cover of the Lindau Gospels, around 875 (Morgan Library).

Part of the appeal of books through the ages has been their materiality. While there is evidence of readers and book owners extolling a book’s content in terms of textual quality, reliability and accuracy, there is far more evidence of readers and book owners just marvelling at the beauty of the artefact. Even today, most researchers of manuscripts are fascinated with the artefact than with the text (pace all the philologists out there). And beside scholars and researchers, all of us marvel at an ancient papyrus fragment or a medieval manuscript, even without knowing what the text is.

There is something powerful in the packaging. In that, we are not that different from the medievals.

Medieval books tended towards beauty. Resources and budget allowing, a book tended to be more than a book – more than the sum total of its pages. An object of beauty, an embodiment of the ideals of an age: light, colour, density, gravity-defying substance.

We’ve always understood that books are there to take our breath away. To point beyond themselves while not retreating off-stage.

Beautiful books, an unchallenged pleonasm.

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