We use TEI

Chapter 7. Initials and other illuminations

Version 3.0 beta

This is a preliminary version which can be changed or updated at any time.
The chapter has been created collaborately by Friederike Richter and Beeke Stegmann.


7.1 How and where to encode illuminations

Medieval manuscripts often contain some degree of illumination as e.g. marginal drawings or initials. The encoding and systematic recording of the occurent illuminations enables the database to become a highly useful tool for scholars working from very different angles. For instance, studies in material philology and art history will highly benefit from it, because it enables scholars to search for and, thus, easily find relevant instances across manuscripts. What is more, the careful encoding of initials and their decoration will provide deeper insight into the intended hierarchy, structure and layout of the manuscripts. In fact, one of the major advantages of including descriptions of these visual elements into digital transcriptions is the direct linking to the manuscript’s text.

In a menotic XML-file, we recommend that information on the illuminations (incl. the initials) is distributed and encoded in two designated places:

1. in the header as part of the manuscript description (see 7.2) and

2. in the body as part of the transcription (see 7.3).

While the manuscript description in the header (see also ch. 14.3) should list all illuminations including the initials, in the transcription only initials are encoded, as they are part of the wording of the text. The description of illuminations in the header is mainly in prose and can be rather elaborate (if desired and appropriate). By contrast, the encoding in the transcription is more basic and merely covers a few central characteristics, which are specified by means of attributes, which makes them higlhy searcheable.

The following overview summarizes what to encode where and refers to the respective chapters of these guidelines:

Where What
In the manuscript description (<teiHeader>) All illuminations (including initials) of the manuscript are listed chronologically, giving information on:
- Type and occurrence of illumination (for initials ch., for other illuminations ch.
- Description of the motif or decoration (for initials ch., for other illuminations ch.;
for optional further detail see ch. 7.2.5 on motifs and composition and ch. 7.2.6 on illumination techniques).
- Inks and colours used (ch. 7.2.3).
- Captions (ch. 7.2.4).
- Hands and dating (ch. 7.2.5).
In the transcription (<body>) Basic characteristics of initials are encoded where they occur in the text, giving information on:
- The letter and its form (ch. 7.3.1).
- Hierarchy of initials (ch. 7.3.2).
- Colours used (ch. 7.3.4).
- Artistic design (ch. 7.3.5).

Note also the glossary in the end of the chapter that helps, among others, to identify and name the different parts of an initial (see 7.4.). Furthermore, we refer to the introduction to manuscript illumination by (1) Michelle P. Brown: Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts. A guide to technical terms. London 1994. which is available in an updated version in the of the Glossaries of the British Library (https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/glossary.asp) as well as (2) Christine Jakobi-Mirwald: Buchmalerei. Terminologie in der Kunstgeschichte. Berlin 2008. Both works were used to prepare this chapter, while some definitions were adapted for the corpus of Scandinavian manuscripts.

7.2 Listing all illuminations in the header

This section describes how to register illuminations as part of the manuscript description in the header. As a minimum standard when dealing with illuminated manuscripts, we recommend to register all instances of illumination including initials in a consecutive list.

All illuminations should be listed within the element <decoDesc> in the manuscript description section of the header (see also ch. 14.3.3). A separate <decoNote> is used for each illumination – including the major initals. The register should be chronological, i.e. following the order of occurrence in the manuscript. Each <decoNote>-entry starts with the indication of the folio (and if applicable the column) of the respective illumination, which is encoded in a <locus> element. Second, each <decoNote> should indicate the illumination type in question, e.g. full-page illumination or opening initial.

A basic list registrating the illuminations within the header would look like this:

    F. <locus from="1r" to="1r">1r</locus>:
    full-page illumination, Christ on the cross. 
    Colours: yellow, blue, light red, outline: black.
     F. <locus from="1va" to="1va">1va</locus>:
     historiated opening initial M depicting king Magnús, 12 ll.
     Colours: light red, blue, green, yellow, outine: black

    F. <locus from="1v" to="98v">1v-98v</locus>:
    foliated chapter initials, 2-3 ll.
    Colours: alternating red, blue with black foliage.

However, the degree of detail that can be given in the description of illuminations is virtually unlimited. For non-specialists we recommend to aim for a basic description that should not take too much time, but still gives someone who does not have access to the manuscript or images thereof a good overview as to how many and what kind of illuminations the manuscript contains.

In the specifications below, initials will be discussed separately from other illumination types (see ch. 7.2.1 for initials adn ch. 7.2.2 for other illuminations), because they partly require different terms and procedures in the respective entries. Please note, that the listing of the illuminations in the header does not separate the major initials from the other illuminations, but registers all instances of them in the order of their occurrences in the manuscript. The occurrence of minor initials, on the other hand, can be summarized at the end. Common categories, that apply to both various initials and other illuminations may be treated subsequently (i.a. colours, captions, hands and dating).

7.2.1 Initials

Initials are distinguished into two categories according to their hierarchy in the manuscript – major and minor intials (see below) – and treated differently: It is good practice to register all major initials in the same way as other illuminations in the chronological order as they appear in the manuscript (i.e. in a separate <decoDesc> element). Minor initials may be summarized at the end of the list in a common <decoDesc> element for each subtype. Each register entry of an intial should, as a minimum, comprise of the following characteristics: 1. Folio/column, 2. Decoration and hierarchy, 3. Letter, height and colours. Major and minor initials

The occurrence of the different subtypes of the initals has to be assessed for every manuscript individually. Manuscripts often comprise different initial subtypes that can be distinquished both by their hierarchy in relation to the structure of the text as well as by their degree of decoration. The possible subtypes are: opening initial, text initial, chapter initial, paragraph initial and sentence initial (littera notabilior). Most manuscripts do not comprise all subtypes, their distribution is partly dependent on the genre and number of the works included and the general degree of illumination. One has thus to identify which levels are present in the manuscript and meaningful to be distinguished. (see also 7.3.2 Hierarchy of initials.)

Put simply, as major initials we consider rather large and elaborated initials as opening, text and – depending on the manuscript's structure – chapter initials. For each of these major initials, the letter is named, its folio (and if applicable the column) is given, the kind of initial is indicated as well as its height (i.e. number of indented lines):

Fig. 7.XX. GKS 1005 fol., 69rb line .. - ...

    F. <locus from="69rb" to="69rb">69rb</locus>: text initial Þ, 7 ll.

As minor initials we consider less elaborate or enlarged, but often highly frequent initials. Depending on the manuscript's structure these can be chapter intials as well as paragraph and sentence initials (i.e. littera notabilior). All occurrences of minor initials may be treated in groups, using a separate <decoDesc> element for each of the subtypes. Such summary entries are usually placed at the end of the list of initials, simply indicating the first to the last folio of their respective occurrence and summarizing the avarage height (i.e. number indented lines), skipping the indication the respective letters:

    <p>Ff. <locus>1r-27v</locus>: paragraph initials, 2-3 ll.</p>

Please note that it is also of interest to register missing initials, i.e. cases where an initial was laid out, but the allowed space was never filled. Sometimes, these instances contain written notes to the illuminator, that e.g. indicate the respective letter.

    <p>Ff. <locus>2r, 3v, 5r-6v</locus>: missing paragraph initials, 2-3ll.</p>
</decoDesc> Initial forms and decoration

Initials occur usally in various shapes and decorations. The overview below lists characteristic forms of initials and common ornamentation forms that would be desirable to identify with the correct terms. Please note that the forms and kinds decoration often occur in combination and the encoder would in these cases indicate more than one form or decoration (e.g. foliated dragon initial).

Example Form and decoration Explanation
Dragon initial The body of the initial or parts of it is formed
by a dragon. Dragons often have fanged jaws, feathered
wings and two legs with claws.

Two-headed Dragon forming part of the A of the foliated
initial in Medeltidshandskrift 6, fol. 6v, l. 1-7.
Foliated initial The initial is decorated with botanical decoration
and can comprise creeping branches often with leaves,
buds and flowers or spiral vines. Foliage can in form of
termination elongate the shafts of a letter into the margins.

Foliated initial A with spiral vines and curlicue
in AM 334 fol. Staðarhólsbók, fol. 1va, l. 1-20.
Historiated initial Usually the counter of the letter comprises identifiable
representational motifs with an illustrative function (i.e. referring
to the content of the text). It is desireable to identify the motif
of the historiated initial.

Historiated initial E in showing the lease of land by
handshake in Landsleigubálkr of King Magnús Lagabætir's landslov
in GKS 1154 fol. Hardenberg's Codex, fol. 35r, l. 18-32.
Inhabited initial Human, animal or fantasy creatures are connected to the
initial or its foliage, often climbing in it with a solely
decorative function. It is desireable to indicate the the kind
and number of inhabiting creatures.

Inhabited initial M, dogs climbing within the letter
in AM 147 4to Heynesbók, fol. 89r, l. 16-24.
Interlaced initial The body of the initial is formed by geometrically
interwoven and knotted ribbons.

Interlaced initial B in AM 795 4to, fol. 24v, l. 1-8.
Lombard Enlarged letter in a often bulgy and rounded shape,
usually plain-coloured with no further decoration.

The lombard E in AM 65 4to, fol. 4v, l. 16-20.
Missing initial The initial has been cut out or omitted, i.e. it
space has been left for it but it was never filled in.
Sometimes small guide letters indicate the letter for the

Missing initial Þ, which was planned, but never
executed. See the indented four lines of the text and
the guide letter þ in the margin in AM 557 4to, fol. 3r,
l. 26-30.
Pen-flourished initial Fragile ornamentation drawn with very fine hair-lines
solely in (coloured) ink. If this kind of linear embellishment
is in the counter of the letter, it is called infilling, when
it is attached to the letter it is called external pen flourish,
often with tendril extenders.

Pen-flourished initial n with delicate tendrils executed
with black ink and pen. The letter itself is decorated with gold leaf, in in
GKS 1154 fol. Hardenberg's Codex, fol. 5v, l. 15-27.
Penwork initial Initial solely drawn with a pen (not a brush) with a
subdued degree of decoration as loops and curlicues, usually
using the writing ink of the text. Mostly in early modern

Pen-work initial as they often appear in early modern
manuscripts in Lbs 781 4to, fol. 6v, l. 26-28.
Puzzle The body a letter is excecuted in most often two contrasting
colours, leaving a thin white gap inbetween.

Puzzle initial B in red and blue in Medeltidshandskrift 18,
fol. 6r, l. 13-16.
Versal The first letter of a word/sentence is clearly out-dented into
the left margin, usually with no or only
little decoration.

Sentence initials executed as versals that are indented into
the left margin in AM 61 fol., f. 3ra, l. 7-14.
Zoomorphic initial The body of the initial is formed by an animal. Please indicate
which kind of animal in the description (for dragons: see dragon

Zoomorphic initial Q, the cauda of the letter is in the shape
of a fish in AM 76 8vo, fol. 23v, l. 10-17.
[Anything else] All other instances: name what you see (incl. representative
motifs and figural ornamentation).

Table 1 shows the most common types of initials and decoration.

The initial form and/or ornamentation may, for instance, be incorpoarted into the description of the illumination type:

  <p>F. <locus from="3r" to="3r">3r:24-36</locus>: 
    major pen-flourished initial L.
    Colours: blue, light red.

A longer and somewhat more detailed description that would obscure the readability if provided in the beginning is preferably given later in the <decoNote> (see ch.

7.2.2 Other illuminations

In the same way as major initials, each occurance of another illumination type, for instance a miniature, is registered in a separate <decoDesc> element in the header. A register entry of illuminations other than initials comprises as a minimum the following: 1. Folio/column, 2. Type and motif/ornament, 3. Captions (if applicable), 4. Colours. Illumination types

Similar to the major initials, the occurence will be given followed by the identification of the illumination type. The different types are characterized by their position and size in relation to the written area. The following table gives an overview over the most frequent kinds of illumination that we consider desireable to be identified.

Example Illumination type Explanation
Bas-de-page Elaborate drawings in the lowar margins that often are
connected to attached bars of an initial. The often playful
(drollery) motifs can refer to the written text or other
illuminations on the page.

Bas-de-page with two knights riding towards each other.
The illumination is connected with attached bars to the initial in GKS 1154 fol.
Hardenberg's Codex, fol. 2v, lower margin.
Border Outstanding illuminated margins that frame a significantly
reduced written area with the incipit. Borders are usually part of
an elaborate decorated page comprising extraordinary enlarged initals
(cf. incipit page). Borders can either be ornamental (foliated, inhabited)
or historiated (with identifiable representative motifs). Rare in manuscripts
that were produced in Scandinavia.

Illuminated border in a prayer book with a historiated initial and
historiated boarder depicting scenes from the birth or Christ, in AM 71 8vo,
fol. 17r.
Frieze Ornamental horizontal elemement above, within or below the text.

Full-page illumination Often framed illumination covering a whole page, the size does
often correspond to the written area of the manuscript.

Full-page illumination depicting the adoration of the Magi in the
size of the written area in AM 421 12mo Marine Jesperdatter's prayer book,
fol. 47v-48r.
Incipit page Decorated page highlighting the beginning of a text section.
Often framed and with coloured ground, extraordinary enlaged initial
and with the incipit in display script. The focus is on script, usually
no ornaments or figurative motifs exceeding/beyond the initial (cf. border).

Incipit page opening Matthew's gospel, with a frame, coloured gorund,
an initial and the incipit in display script in Thott 21 4to, fol. 5r.
Initial Enlarged and decorated letter. For a detailed guidance
see ch.7.2.1.
Cartouche Ornamented element comprising text suggesting a three-dimensional,
most often not rectangular, but rather organic formed frame.

A cartouche comprising the caption of an illumination in
Lbs 781 4to, fol. 4v.
Line fillers More or less elaborate ornaments filling the unwritten whitespace
of written lines, typically the last part of the line, sometimes
depicting serpents, fish or other animals. The occurrence of line
fillers can be summarized at the end of the list.

Red and blue line fillers in AM 4 4to, fol. 3r,
l. 11-18.jpg.
Maniculus (pl. -i) A small hand in the margin pointing at the written text.

A red maniculus pointing at the written text in
AM 76 8vo, fol. 11r, l. 16-22.
Marginal drawing Images outside the written area, usally unframed and
not connected to any initial. The drawing can be placed
in all four margins of a page, but appear most frequently in
the outer and lower margins. The motifs can refer to the written
text but can also be of playful character.

A marginal drawing showing a bishop and a bearded
grotesque figure sticking out its tongue in AM 132 4to,
fol. 29v, bottom margin.
Miniature Small illumination within the written area and that is not
connected to an initial. The miniature is often framed and its
size corresponds usually to the width of the column.

Miniature showing Christ on the cross with Mary and John
on either side in AM 733 4to fol. 5va, inbetween l. 20-21,
Missing illumination Illumination that has either been laid out, but the allowed
space was never filled, or has been scraped off or cut out. It will
be registered here similarily to missing initials. The instances of of
left blank spaces can contain notes for the illuminator that indicate the plannd motif.

The full-page illumination in AM 132 4to, fol. 1r was scraped off.
The outlines can still be perceived, the illumination showed a seated
king with a haloed crown and in his hands an orb, an axe and a
cross-staff, probably St. Olaf.
Vignette Small ornamental element at the end of a text, often in
early modern manuscripts and can be occurent with an indented
and centered explicit of a text.

A vignette with an geometrical interlaced ornament at the
end of a chapter in GKS 3274 a 4to, fol. 250v.

Table 2 shows the most common types of illumination, which one might want to use.

Examples of applying these terms will be given in the following section dealing with motifs. Please note that the occurrence of minor but highly frequent illumination types (e.g. line fillers and maniculi) can be summarized in the end of the list, similar to the minor initials (see ch. Furthermore, it is of interest to register missing illuminations. Motifs

The motifs and composition of the various illuminations is normally listed using basic key words. A longer and somewhat more detailed description that would obscure the readability if provided in the beginning, is preferably given later in the <decoNote> (see ch.

Representational motifs include both objects as well as animate beings, such as humans, animals or hybrid creatures. To register these, one simply identifies what one sees (as best as possible) and briefly names the depicted objects, beings and scenes. The description is given in free text, possibly supplemented by a distinctive attribute, e.g. “sword”, “hanged thief”, “dog”, “bearded face”, “gryllus”. In case of a narrative scene a verbal phrase may be used, e.g. “man hitting mermaid with a sword”, “judges lead thief to the gallows”. A few more specific but frequent terms are provided in the following overview.

Example Motif Explanation
Diagram Two-dimensional schematic representations combining
written text and usually lines as geomatrical forms as lines
and circles. Please indicate the represented content.

Diagram showing the position of the earth, sun and moon
in AM 732 b 4to, fol. 3r, below l. 1.
Drollerie Playful and funny motifs in general, e.g. a fox hunting a
rabbit, grylli or a knight fighting a snail.

A drollerie scene in the bas-de-page of GKS 1005 fol.
Hardenberg's Codex, fol. 5v, bottom margin.

Fig. .

Grotesque Hybrid creature of usually human and animal components.

A quadruped grotesque with a human head and a long
tail in AM 147 4to Heynesbók, fol. 23v, bottom margin.
Gryllus (pl. -i) Playful grotesque creature usually with two animal rear legs,
human face and a gugel, it can have a tail.

Two grylli in the counter of an initial of GKS 1005 fol.
Flateyjarbók, fol. 6vb.
Labours of the month Images of agricultural activities connected to the
individual months, usually in connection with calenders.

Cutting the corn with a scythe in August from a calender
in Medeltidshandskrift 15, fol. 140v, bottom margin.
Maps A two-dimensional representation of real or imagined places
often with captions. Please indicate the represented place.

A map of Jerusalem in AM 732 b 4to, fol. 8v.
Zodiac signs Depictions of the 12 zodiac signs. Please indicate the
represented sign [Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio,
Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces]

A miniature showing the libra in Lbs 781 4to, fol. 46r,
upper left corner.

Most of the XML examples given above already include a brief description of the motif(s). The parts in question follow directly after the location and the identification of the type of illumination and are as simple as “four kings (Sverrir, Hákon, Magnús, Eiríkr)” and “Holy King Óláfr” (with the appropriate mark-up for proper names). Thus, representional motifs are included in the prose of each <decoNote>, and have their natural place right after the illumination type:

  <p>F. <locus from="7r" to="7r">7r</locus>: bas-de-page, 
    two dogs running, a lamb and a bird.
    Colours: black, dark red, white(?).

In case of abstract motifs such as ornaments, the form may be described as best as possible.

7.2.3 Use of colours

It is relevant to note the usage of different shades of ink and colours and their distribution for various reasons. Among others, it helps understanding the structure and hierarchy of the initials in a manuscript, especially for readers not having access to either the manuscript or colour photographs thereof. In the optimal case the colours and their hues are listed separately for each <decoNote>. However, the colours may also be given in a useful summary, e.g. in the case of alternating use of colours as often the case within initials. It would be desirable to be as accurate as possible with regards to naming the colours with reference to the pigments and inks used (e.g. white lead, massicot, orpiment, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, minium, vermillion, madder, crimson, burnt umber, azurite, cobalt blue, ultramarine, woad, malachite, verdigris, raw umber etc.). Nonetheless, such identification is often not possible from the available images or without scientific analysis. Therefore, if it is not possible to determine the pigments used, we encourage encoders not to hesitate to use simple descriptions such as “light blue” or “dark red”. If applicable, the colour hue of the outline of the illumination can be listed seperately in the end indicating "outline".

For example, the description of the illumination in AM 345 fol. on f. 1v (figure 7.13) could be expanded with information on the colours and ink in the following manner:

  <p>F. <locus from="1v" to="1v">1v</locus>: full-page illumination, 
    Holy King <name type="person">Óláfr</name>. 
    Caption: <q>Olafur · Haraldz son · Noreks kongur</q>. 
    Colours: yellow, dark green, light red, black, outline: black, brown.

Note: The colours of initials are also described as part of the encoding in the transcription (see ch. 7.3.4). There, however, colours found in individual initials are only encoded in a simple manner (among other due to technical limitations of the stylesheets used to process and display the transcription). Consequently, we recommend to include the detailed – and potentially more specialized – description in the manuscript description, i.e. as part of the header, instead.

7.2.4 Captions

Illuminations, including initials, can contain captions. If present, the text of captions should be transcribed separately. Like other transcriptions from the manuscript in the header, they are wrapped in <q>-elements. The example below shows how the captions fund in the illuminations on fol. 1r and 1v of AM 345 fol. (figure 7.12-713) may be transcribed.

Fig. 7.12. AM 345 fol., f. 1r .....

Fig. 7.13. AM 345 fol., f. 1v .....

    <p>F. <locus from="1r" to="1r">1r</locus>: full-page illumination, 
      four kings (<name type="person">Sverrir</name>, 
      <name type="person">Hákon</name>, <name type="person">Magnús</name>,
      <name type="person">Eiríkr</name>). Caption: 
      <q>Suerrer · kongur ~ Hakon | kongur Magnus · kongur ~ Eirikur · kongur</q>.
    <p>F. <locus from="1v" to="1v">1v</locus>: full-page illumination, 
      Holy King <name type="person">Óláfr</name>. 
      Caption: <q>Olafur · Haraldz son · Noreks kongur</q>.

7.2.5 Hands and dating (if known)

In case the hand(s) and/or the dating of illuminations differ from the hand(s) of the adjacent main text, information on this should be included if available. Such information can either be given in a general statement or encoded separately in the <decoNote> elements of the illumination in question. As in other places where information on involved people or dates occurs in free text, these are marked-up using the elements <name> and <date>, respectively, with the appropriate attributes @type and @when or @notBefore/@notAfter . The encoded information could look like this:

  <p>Ff. <locus>1r-27v</locus>: sentence initials were added later,
    potentially by <name type="person">Jón Jónsson</name>

7.2.6 Illumination techniques (optional)

The techniques used in the illumination of the manuscript can either be summarized, if used consistent throughout the manuscript, or if the techniques vary, they should be included into the prose of the respective <decoNote>.

Some more common illumination techniques include:

Example Illumination technique Explanation
Brush gold Gold glimmer soluted in binding agent applied onto
the surface with a paintbrush, often leaving the ground
or outlines visible.

Brush gold leaving the outlines of the halos visible
in the full-page illumination of AM 421 12mo Marine
Jesperdatter's prayer book, fol. 71v (detail).
Colour wash Transparent colours usually leaving the outline
drawing visible.

Red and green colour wash in the outline drawing,
also leaving some parts uncolourized as well as colourizing
parts without outline drawing in AM 345 fol. Reykjabók,
fol. 27r, bottom margin.
Fully painted Opaque colours, often blend colour hues and applid
in several layers.

The initial B painted in several layers of opaque
colours enabling to include light ornaments on dark groudn colours in AM 442 12mo,
fol. 4v, l13-23.
Gold leaf Thin layers of gold foil applied/burnished onto the

An initial H with painted gold leaf in AM 71 8vo,
fol. 73, l. 1-10.jpg
Palimpsest When the only script was scraped away but the
illuminations were integrated into the new text.

In this manuscript the Old French translation
in the right column was replaced by an Old Icelandic translation
re-using the old initials. In AM 618 4to, fol. 37rb, l. 19-28.
Pasted Illumination, sometimes reuse from other sources
(e.g. printed book), pasted into the manuscript.

Pencil drawing on tracing paper pasted onto
the page in JS 133 4to, fol. 37v.
Outline drawing Lines drawn with an (ink) pen (can be colourized).
Can be colour washed.

Drawing in the margin drawn with a pen and ink in
AM 132 4to, fol. 12r, bottom margin.

7.2.7 Advanced description of motifs and composition (optional)

When describing motifs one may, of course, provide more detail than one-word descriptions. In particular, the description of the motifs found in individual illuminations may be improved by accounting for the composition of the illumination and/or connecting them to the different parts of the initial, such as the counter or the termination. (See also the glossary provided at the end of this chapter, ch. 7.4.) The example below provides first basic information followed by more specialized details:

  <p>F. <locus from="4v" to="4v">4va:28-4va:30</locus>: 
    minor inhabited initial A with pen flourish.
    Colours: light red (body of the letter), dark blue (pen flourish).
    The counter of the initial is inhabited by a two-legged creature 
    in front of a blue grid. The creature was drawn in the same dark 
    blue colour as the pen flourish of the initial.

With regards to Christian iconography, it is often be desirable to identify the common iconographical motifs. While it would be sufficient to give a general identification, such as “Christ on the cross” or “female Saint”, more specific descriptions provide more detail and make the files more searchable. For help identifying Christian iconography we recommend to consult the Iconclass Browser http://www.iconclass.org/help/outline, a tool developed for identification of iconography of art with a special focus on Christian iconography. For example, if you are in doubt about what is depicted in an illumination and the text does not give any clue, you can conduct a combined search in the Iconclass Browser searching for the elements you can identify. A search for “female saint AND wheel”, for instance, will tell you that, according the iconographic tradition, a wheel identifies either St. Catherine or St. Christina. Further more, the search results will guide you, in order to identify the female saint as one or the other, depending on other details of the depiction.

For an exemplary detailed description with regards to the iconography and composition of illuminations see the entry for AM 226 fol. in the online catalogue handrit.org: https://handrit.is/en/manuscript/view/da/AM02-226. (Please note, though, that the technical details of the XML encoding rules for handrit.org differ slightly from the practices recommended here.)

Furthermore, the advanced description provides the option to include more specific art-historical aspects as the determination of the illumination style, e.g. gothic, insular, romanesque or renaissance.

7.3 Encoding initials in the transcription

This section describes how to encode initials including sentence initials (also called littera notabilior) as part of the transcription. The decoration of letters can vary considerably, but the degree of decoration (motifs/ornaments and uses of colours) is usually connected to their function. Thus, the manuscript may have quite large and splendid main initials while at the same time displaying more modest decoration introducing subordinated sections as paragraphs or sentences.

Since the specific characteristics of initials are visual, the special mark-up of such letters is restricted to the facsimile level of the transcription (i.e. on the diplomatic and normalized level initials are transcribed just like any other letter). In the transcription, the mark-up of initials and other emphasized letters is rather standardized and confined to a couple of basic categories. The more detailed description of initials (usually in prose) should be given in the document header (see ch. 7.2).

In order to mark-up initials we recommend using the <c> element, which can have several attributes. Besides defining some of the most relevant characteristics of the initials, the values of the attributes can furthermore be read by stylesheets when transforming the XML transcription for display. Hence, correct encoding of initials enables their display in a digital edition – though only on the facsimile level and in somewhat rough approximation.

7.3.1 The letter and its form

An initial (or any other special character) is part of the transcribed text. Therefore, it needs to be written, or rather typed, by the transcriber. As for other characters, its special form might be noted and reproduced on the facsimile level using one of the Unicode characters. For instance, an insular “F” would be encoded with the entity &Fins; (for more details on characters and transcription rules see chapter 4.2.). The mark-up to describe that initial is then built around the character, since it is understood as a qualification of how the letter was executed in the manuscript.

If an initial is missing, i.e. space was left for it but it was never filled in, this is indicated – in accordance with the rules for deliberate omissions in the manuscipt – using the <space> element on the facsimile level. By default, <space> is an empty element, but it may take attributes such as @quantity and @unit (see also ch. 7.3.1 on the usage of <space> and <supplied>). The following example shows how a missing “N” could be encoded. In this case @quantity is used to indicate the number of characters omitted, which is specified by the value 'chars' of the attribute @unit.

    <me:facs><space quantity="1" unit="chars"/>v</me:facs>
    <me:dipl><supplied reason="space">N</supplied>v</me:dipl>
    <me:norm><supplied reason="space">N</supplied>ú</me:norm>

7.3.2 Hierarchy of initials

In most manuscripts, structurally different types of initials and highlighted characters occur. Usually, the various types are distributed in a systematic hierarchical way and can be identified based on their size, their position on the page and their position regarding the text’s overall structure. The attribute @type is used to indicate the main type of the character, e.g. whether it is a text initial or a sentence initial, a so-called littera notabilor. At the same time, the attribute @type distinguishes the character from other characters that are marked-up by means of the <c>-element such as hyphens; see ch. 4.5.3. In the context of initials, the attribute @type will usually take one of the three values 'initial' , 'littNot' (for littera notabilior) or 'versal' . If the type is 'initial' (or 'noInitial' ), it is further possible to distinguish between subtypes (using @subtype), if the manuscript has different levels of initials. This additional distinction makes explicit – and thus searchable – the hierarchy between initials.

If the initial is omitted, this can be indicated with the value 'noInitial' in addition to encoding the open space with the <space> element. Even though this might seem somewhat redundant, it has the great advantage that, for instance the subtype and the intended size of the missing initial may be encoded – and thus searched for. If an initial was clearly added later, for instance by a later user, it shold be wrapped in the appropriate <add> element with the respective attributes (see ch. 7.2.1).

See subtypes (below) for more precise categories, their defintitions and examples.

@type @subtype Defines the subtype of <c>, if @type="initial"
initial 'opening' An opening initial: The first, often largest initial of a manuscript.
initial 'text' A large initial at the beginning of a new text (if applicable)
initial 'chapt' An initial at the beginning of a new chapter or major section or a text.
initial 'para' An initial at the beginning of a paragraph or subunit of a text (if applicable)
initial littNot The character is a sentence initial (littera notabilior): The first letter of a sentence is highlighted within the line, e. g. it is colour-stroked (i. e. coloured filling of the counters of the letter or a red stroke) or other minor decoration or slightly enlarged display script.

Let us have a look at some examples:

Fig. 7. .... AM 619 4to, fol. 47r, lines 15–23. Note the decorated initial “S” in line 16 and the littera notabilior in the word Ða in the middle of line 18.

The first word of line 16 in the picture above should be encoded as

  <c type="initial" subtype="chapt">S</c>alomon

and the middle word of line 18 starts a new sentence with a sentence initial, which is encoded as such:

  <c type="littNot">Ð</c>a

Using the element <c>, an omitted initial may be encoded like this:

    <me:facs><c type="noInitial" subtype="chapt">
      <space quantity="1" unit="chars"/></c>v</me:facs>
    <me:dipl><supplied reason="space">N</supplied>v</me:dipl>

While a rather plain mark-up as shown in the examples is perfectly valid, it is highly recommended also to describe the characters’ characteristics in some more detail using the following encoding options. We consider it good practice to indicate at least the size (see ch. 7.3.3) and colour(s) (see ch. 7.3.4) in addition to the type. These values, if properly encoded, can moreover be read and displayed by the latest version of the Menota stylesheet.

7.3.3 Size of initial

The size of the initial is often connected to its type and function. Within the transcription it is customary to indicate the height of three different parts of the initial. All measurements are given in natural numbers corresponding to the writing lines on the same page: 1. The initial height, indicating how many lines - mostly corresponding to the x-height or cap height of the letter - have been indented. In the case when the initial was laid out but never executed, it will still be possible to measure the initial height of the non-existing initial in accordance to the space left blank by the scribe. 2. The ascender height, giving the number of lines the ascender (or attached shaft) of the initial extends above the initial height (usually in the left margin next to the text). 3. The descender height, counting the number of lines the descender (or attached shaft) of the initial extends the initial height (also usually in the left margin).

In XML, the size of initials is indicated as part of the @style attribute on the element <c>. In order to ensure the correct display of initials when an XML transcription is transformed for display, it is necessary to denote both its size and relative position in the written area. Therefore, the value of the initial height, i.e. the space it takes within the written area, is marked-up as a combination of two values, denoting separately how many lines the initial height extends above the line on which the character has its logical position in the text (i.e. “up”), and how many lines it extends below the line (i.e. “down”).

For example, in the picture below the initial height corresponds to eight writing lines and the character “A” belongs logically on the fourth of these eight lines where it forms part of the word “AT”. In the XML mark-up we therefore indicate that the initial height goes three lines up (that is it extends three lines above the line that starts with “AT”) and four lines down from that line. Together with the line, on which the character logically belongs, the total height of the initial can be calculated based on those values as 3+4+1 = 8. The initial height of the “A” from the example above can thus be marked-up as follows:

Fig. 7. .... AM 226 fol., f. 96va

<c type="initial" subtype="chapt" style="u3 d4">A</c>

The various values of @style are separated by white spaces, and the numbers are preceded by an identifying letter (or letter combination), in this case “u” for up and “d” for down. In the same way, we can indicate the size of the ascender and descender of the initial in the margin, using the preceding letters “mu” (for margin up) to denote the height of the ascender and “md” (for margin down) to denote how far down the descender extends below the initial height. For the initial “A” the complete markup of the size then looks like this:

<c type="initial" subtype="chapt" 
  style="u3 d4 mu5 md28">A</c>

If any of the values are omitted, they are assumed to be '0' . The initial “S” from picture 7 above can therefore be encoded as such:

<c type="initial" subtype="chapt" 
  style="d6 md2">S</c>

Note that the value of @style is given as “d6 md2”, indicating that the initial height goes six lines down from the logical position of the initial. Since no value is given for “u”, it is assumed to be “u0”, which is correct, since the line onto which the letter belongs is the top line of the initial height, which is seven lines in total. In the margin, the initial does not exceed above the initial height, but below, which is denoted by “md2”.

In case of a missing initial, the intended size is encoded in the same way as for existing initials. Since it is usually impossible to know if the initial was supposed to extend into to margins, no indication of size is made for “mu” and “md”. The mark-up of a planned, but not executed chapter initial that was supposed to extend two lines above the writing line and one below would thus be:

<c type="noInitial" subtype="chapt" style="u2 d1">
  <space quantity="1" unit="chars"/></c>

7.3.4 Colour(s)

It is relevant to note the colour(s) of initials and other highlighted characters. If initials are monochrome, i.e. only a single colour or hue is used, one might be interested in if and how the colours alternate between initials; and in the case of multiple colours or hues, the number and distribution of these may be important with regards to the structural layout of the text.

We recommend encoding the colour(s) of initials by adding yet another value to the attribute @style. The value shall be preceded by “c” for colour and can be used to describe both monochrome and polychrome initials. In case the letter is monochrome, either the name of that colour/hue or the six-digit hexadecimal CSS colour-code (preceded by #) is given. A monochrome red initial would thus take the value “cRed” or “c#FF0000”. If a letter is bichrome, i.e. uses two colours, both colours are given (again either by name or hexadecimal colours code) and separated by an underscore. If an initial is truly polychrome, i.e. uses three or more different colours or hues, these are again listed using underscores. The order in which the colours of bi- and polychrome initials are named should follow the order of importance. In other words, the only (or main) colour/hue of the actual initial, i.e. the body of the letter, is mentioned first, followed by a potential second colour of the actual initial or otherwise the main colour of the ornamentation or decoration.

Expanding on the description of the initial “S” from the picture above, its encoding with simple references to the colours used looks like this:

<c type="initial" subtype="chapt" 
  style="d6 md2 cGreen_Red_Blue">S</c>

If a clear hierarchy of colours is impossible to establish, for instance if a bichrome initial is drawn with two colours that are used on equal terms, that relationship can be encoded by means of using an equals sign instead of an underscore in between the two colours. Please note, though, that the stylesheets will not be able to display this correctly. No matter how many colours are specified and even if their relationship is marked-up as equal, the currently available display options will always render the initial in the first mentioned colour. Furthermore, the colour references in the markup of <c> are read by the stylesheets, which can only handle colours that are among the 140 CSS-colour names. Therefore, we recommend limiting the analysis of colours in the context of <c> to a general level. Instead, more specific and sophisticated descriptions of initials and the colours used should be placed in the manuscript description part of the header (i.e. <decoDesc> inside <msDesc>, see ch.

If the encoder should be unable to determine the colour(s) employed for executing initials, for instance because he or she is working from black-and-white images, the indication of color is simply omitted. In other words the @style attribute of the initial(s) in question does not get expanded with a value for the colour.

7.3.5 Artistic rendition

The attribute @rend may be used to describe the kind of decoration found in or around the initial. This attribute provides a general description of the initial’s decoration without going into too much detail, i.e. by means of keywords (see list below). In basic terms, the information given here must agree with the description in the header, where a more detailed (prose) description of the initial's form and its ornamentation can be additionally included (see ch. For examples and descriptions see

@rend Specifies the rendition and composition of the character (usually initial)
'dragon' Dragon initial
'foliated' Foliated initial
'historiated' Historiated initial
'inhabited' Inhabited initial
'interlaced' Interlaced initial
Missing initial
'penFlourish' Pen-flourished initial
'penwork' Penwork initial
'zoomorphic' Zoomorphic initial
'other' [Anything else]

The encoding of the chapter initial “S” from the examples above thus be expanded with the attribute @rend taking the value 'ornamanted' :

<c type="initial" subtype="chapt" style="d6 md2 cGreen_Red_Blue" 

Since multiple different forms and decorations can occur in connection with the same intitial, these values may be combined, using white space(s) for separation. For example, the initial “A” from AM 226 fol. (picture above) may be encoded as such:

<c type="initial" subtype="chapt" style="u3 d4 mu5 md28" 
  rend="historiated inhabited foliated">A</c>

7.4 Glossary

The following is an alphabetically organizes glossary covering the most common terms used for describing initials and other illuminations.

Term Explanation
Ascender Upper stem of the letter which can be extended for several lines above the initial space until the top of the page
Attached bar Additional bar attached to the body of the initial elongating the or adding ascenders/decenders
Bearded face The counter of chapter initials were often filled with drawings of (bearded) faces. Example: https://image.landsbokasafn.is/source/AM_350_fol/AM_350_fol,_0015r_-_40-hq.pdf
Bas-de-page Elaborated drolleries (playful creatures) in the lower margin, sometimes connected to the termination of the initial. Example: https://image.landsbokasafn.is/source/GKS_1005_fol/GKS_1005_fol.,_0009v_-_23-hq.pdf
Bar The short horizontal strokes that are attached to the stem to form letters like “E”
Body of the letter The strokes that form a letter, consisting of stems, bars, spines, etc.
Cap height Height of the initial including x-height and the ascender which are within the initial space
Chapter initial An initial at the beginning of a new chapter or section or a text.
Counter Closed space surrounded by the body of the letter as in “o” or open space defined by the the body a letter as the two spaces in “S”
Descender Lower stem of the letter which can be extended for several lines until the bottom of the page
External motif Ornaments outside the body of the initial (i. e. not within the counters)
Extender Often splendid vines attached to initials elongating shafts or attached bars
Ground The area of the initial space which has sometimes an own decoration or colour and is often to be seen around the letter.
Gryllus (pl. grylli) A gryllus is a common hybrid creature with a head on two legs, sometimes wearing a fool’s cap. Example: https://image.landsbokasafn.is/source/GKS_1005_fol/GKS_1005_fol.,_0006v_-_17-hq.pdf
Infilling Decoration of an initial that is placed in the counters of the letter.
Initial Illuminated letter of the manuscript text marking the beginning of a new text, chapter or paragraph.
Initial space
Major initial The most splendid initials of a manuscript: Opening and chapter initials.
Minor initial Smaller initials, often more subdued decorated (suchapter, paragraph and sentence initial).
Opening initial The first, often largest initial of a text.
Shaft Vertical strokes that form the body of the letter. They can be elongated and terminate in spirals.
Sentence Initial
Termination Terminal part of an initial that is decorated with vines, spirals or the like (usually shafts, attached bars or extenders)
x-heigt The height of a letter or a part of a letter in between the base line and the mean line, cf. the size of the letter “x”

First published 12 April 2016 and 15 May 2017. Last updated 10 September 2017. Webmaster.