Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Before the invention of the codex, that is, a book made of leaves bound on one side, books were mostly on scrolls, and the predominate material for scrolls was papyrus. Papyrus was a paper like material made from a plant that grew in the Nile Delta. Greeks and Romans used papyrus as well as Egyptians, but because papyrus did not survive well in moist environments, the vast majority of papyrus survive has been found in Egypt. Because a scroll was continually rolled and unrolled, thick pigments would quickly flake off, so papyrus scrolls were not decorated or illustrated in the manner of later manuscripts, with lavish colored decorations. Scientific and mathematical texts required illustration, while illustration was optional for literary texts. Both types of texts did have illustrations though, and in a similar style, called by Kurt Weitzman called the "papyrus style". In the papyrus style, small, quickly drawn, ink illustrations would be inserted into gaps in the text block. The were seldom colored and usually had little if any background or framing.
Few examples of illustrated papyri remain, and thoe only in fragments. One example is the so-called Heracles Papyrus. It consists of two columns of text which have three quick sketches of Heracles fighting the The Nemean lion.
The iconography of the sketches is fairly conventional, compare the second sketch with this roughly contemporary mosaic from Spain.
Not all works on Papyrus were quick, rough sketches. The Charioteer Papyrus (pictured at top) is a fragment containing a finely drawn colored illustration of six chariot charioteers. There is no text on the fragment, so it is not known what work it illustrated. Indeed it cannot be said with certainty is came from a scroll or an codex.
The Papyrus style was carried over into early codices, although it was eventually abandoned because of the new opportunities provided by the new format