On pages 17-18 of The Lisbon Hebrew Bible, the stories of Joel and Amos, two minor prophets of the Old Testament, are written. The ornamentation used by the scribe is intricately and elaborately designed.
Glancing quickly through the manuscript, I am struck by the detail and brightly colored ornamentation that contrasts with the simplicity and somewhat geometrically-shaped Hebrew alphabet. The text is inscribed using a reed and sepia-colored ink. Both the ornamentation, the colors, and the style of text is repeated throughout the manuscript.
Specifically in these two pages, the author contrasts the two borders on each page by painting one border with bold colored flowers and figures of animals and the second border with geometric figures. Although the borders contrast graphically, they complement each other in color.
The Hebrew text is aligned justified and is placed inside the ornate borders in a place of prominence. A lace-like border encircles the borders and text. This same border is repeated throughout the manuscript.
Each section is accented by a text box that is placed in close proximity to the text that it is introducing. The text box is accented with gold filigree, the same that used in other pages. Similar to the layout of our contemporary books and newspapers, this intricately-styled text box defines the beginning of the section in the same way that headlines introduce an article.
The text of the Lisbon Hebrew Bible was inscribed by Samuel ben Samuel Ibn Musa and a team of scribes drew the decorations. The bible was completed in 1482, fourteen years before the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
Just as visual artists and musicians study the distinct periods in art and music history to advance their work, graphic artists study the layout of ancient manuscripts to see how their authors used contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity to make a great work of art.
The Lisbon Hebrew Bible. Downloaded from http://www.bl.uk/collections/treasures/lisbon/lisbon_broadband.htm?middle, November 21, 2010.