Table of Contents
Main Sections
I. Function of Books
II. Book Production
III. Book Structure
IV. Typology of Books
V. Book Illumination
Back to the previous subchapter               I. 2. The Use of Books Credits
Unlike the present day, books were used for a variety of purposes in the Middle Ages. The outlook and content of various kinds of medieval books were determined by the intended usage and, more specifically, by those, who ordered them. We may recognise eight types of books according to their usage, covering the changing need in book acquisition during the medieval period. These are books for missionaries, for emperors, for monks, for students, for aristocrats, for priests, for collectors, and simply for everybody.

The first group comprises books immediately related to the Christian teaching with illustrative and explicative contents (as Bibles, Gospels, Psalters and their commentaries, and books containing practical advice for pastors). They were used during the missionary activities - as shown in the example of England - during the 7th to 9th centuries. A further step in the history of book production was the richly decorated and luxurious codices of kings and emperors, which were put on display in ceremonial fashion in order to achieve others' admiration; they can be considered investments to improve the rulers' prestigeous position among their contemporaries. They were parts of royal treasuries favoured especially from the 8th to the 11th century and often served as diplomatic gifts handed over to a ruler in a distant country. The golden age of monastic books came in the 12th century, when the monastic libraries were the main recepients of glossed and separated volumes of the Bible, Church Fathers, the works of antique and contemporary authors, scholarly works and handbooks, monastic rules, Breviaries, Psalters, Graduals, Antiphonaries and other service books.

The rise of universities and cathedral schools in the 13th century created a new need for books - handbooks for scholarly and educational use. These were theological treatises, biblical glosses and interpretations, legal handbooks and texts, didactic poems, astronomical handbooks and books about nature, historical books, and revised and unified texts of the Bible. The public demand for these books led to the emergence of a professional book trade, the centres of which were the major medieval universities in Paris, Bologna and Padua.

Already in the thirteenth century we have numerous illustrated manuscripts with secular content, they appear in the next century in a real abundance: chronicles of royal houses, moral treatises, cookbooks, tournament books, and chivalrous romances. These were the books intended for young aristocrats, in which the exemplary way of aristocratic life was presented. The type of literacy spread among the aristocrats was rather educative. Among those books were different types of chansons and romans, travel books, antique themes and saints' lives, specula, histories and world chronicles. From the late fourteenth century, a peculiar type of manuscripts appeared, so-called pattern books. These books can be attributed to one particular artist, they are signed, and contain fine and polished quality drawings, as if they were made for presentation to high-ranking patrons in order to win their support for a particular work.

For personal piety, the books of hours, immensely popular in the fifteenth century, are the best examples. They have been preserved in large amounts all over medieval Europe as books for ordinary households as well as the aristocracy. The books for priests were probably those commonly used by the village communities around the parish churches. They were - as well as the monastic books - service books for the celebration of the Mass: Bible, Breviary, Missal, Psalter, Gradual and new instructive pastoral handbooks, moral treatises on virtues and vices, penitential books, collections of sermons and new illustrative handbooks such as Biblia pauperum and Speculum Humanae Salvationis, and books on lay participation in Christ's suffering, such as the Imitation of Christ of Thomas of Kempis.

It became popular to collect books in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in relation to the revival of classical learning among the early humanists. Their enthusiastic and copious patronage aimed at works by antique authors, books on philosophy and science, literary works and bibliophilies. The results of their activities came to us as abundant personal libraries, built with a particular interest in mind.

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