Saturday, July 28, 2012

The manicule again

Sifting through more old papers early this morning I found this postcard, which according to a note I made to myself on the back, I picked up at the Vatican Library in November 1984, nearly 28 years ago. I cannot now recall what on earth I was doing in the Library on that occasion, but that is neither here nor there. As the caption now makes clear to me, this black-and-white detail was taken from the lower left corner of the verso of folio 47 of a tenth-century Greek manuscript account (dated 964) of the life of St. Pancrazio of Taormina, in a very neat minuscule hand (Vat. gr. 1591). What caught my eye, however, was that manicule or drawing of a disembodied hand and wrist, which I had occasion to mention in my book The Finger: A Handbook. These were usually deployed for emphasis, often by readers all the way up to the seventeenth century, and even beyond. This one is unlike any I have ever seen. It sprouts from a capital letter, and was clearly therefore drawn by the copyist. It was also designed to mimic one of the variant gestures of blessing or benediction used by priests and bishops in the eastern Orthodox tradition, that is, with the ring finger touching the thumb-tip, and the remaining three fingers extended, one for each of the members of the Trinity. Amusingly, this artist-illuminator correctly enumerated the five enormously elongated fingers at their tips, but got muddled with his proximal phalanges, which, if you look carefully, imply the existence of six knuckles, and not five. Never mind.

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