MMFC:Lists/Decoration types

From Manual - MMFC. Medieval Manuscripts in Flemish Collections


1 Decorative features

The MMFC database allows cataloguers to give a full description of the decorative elements of a manuscript in a description field, but it also makes it possible to register a number of recurrent decorative elements with the use of tick boxes in checklists. To facilitate the correct identification of these decoration types, this page contains a number of lists with terms used for the description via checklists, with their definition according to the MMFC standard and one or more illustrative examples of the decorative elements.

Most of these terms are in common use by art historians and manuscript scholars, but their precise meaning and scope is sometimes ill defined. The list below defines as precisely as possible how the terms in the column on the left are used within the MMFC database.

1.1 General definitions

Term Definition Example
Picture book The manuscript contains little or no text and is mainly composed of pictures or drawings.
Antwerpen, Museum Plantin-Moretus, M 51, fol. 18v-19r.
Diagrams Two-dimensional schematic representations that combine script and geometrical forms, including schematic representations of genealogies.
Leuven, KU Leuven Bibliotheken Bijzondere Collecties, Ms. 1005, membr. 1r.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0106, fol. 59v-60r.
Miniatures Pictorial illumination that is not an integrative part of an initial or a border. Often miniatures are set within a frame that distinguishes them from the text and other decorations. Most miniatures are placed within the text area of the page, but sometimes framed miniatures are executed in the margins.
Paris, BNF, Ms.Fr.12477, fol. 1r.
Border decoration Any kind of decoration that is located in the margins or the intercolumnar space of the page.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0198, fol. 36r.
Drolleries Drolleries are funny, playful, mischievous and/or bawdy figurative motifs in the border decoration.


If a decorated border contains grotesques (hybrid or mythical creatures), they are also classified as drolleries in the description model.

Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0233, fol. 10r.
Heraldry An armorial device, often in the shape of a shield, possibly supplemented with additional heraldic elements, sometimes as a full heraldic achievement composed of a shield, supporters, crown, helmet or miter, and crest, and a banderole with a motto. The heraldry is used to identify a particular person (real or fictional), institution or family. A particular function of heraldry is as ownership mark.
Gent, Bisschoppelijk Archief, HS. 10, fol. 2r
Pasted-in miniatures Miniatures that were not drawn directly on the pages of the manuscript, but rather on another piece of parchment or paper and at a later moment pasted into the manuscript.
Antwerpen, Museum Plantin-Moretus, M 14.18 fol. 92v. The lower right-hand corner of the pasted-in miniature has become detached.
Pasted-in woodcuts Woodcut prints that have been pasted into the manuscript instead of printed directly on the page.
Antwerpen, Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience, B.422, fol. 46v
Later illumination Illumination that is executed a considerable time after the majority of the manuscript, usually discernible because of the clear distinction in style between the script and the decoration or miniature.
KU Leuven Bibliotheken, Bijzonder Collecties, Ms. 1073. The manuscript dates from the 15th century but this grisaille miniature was probably painted into the manuscript in the 19th century.
Instructions to the illuminator Instructions left by the scribe or someone in charge of the illustrative programme concerning the subject of the miniature, the desired technique, or other practical notes.
Gent, Bisschoppelijk archief, HS. 15
Illumination excised The manuscript contains one or more decorations that have been removed in one way or another (cut out, torn out).
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS 0020, fol. 272v.
Illustration incomplete One or more pages of the manuscript contain blank spaces for a planned miniature that was never executed or completed.
Antwerpen, Museum Plantin-Moretus, M 15.4, fol. 82r.
Decoration incomplete The manuscript contains spaces left for decorative elements that were never completed. Blank margins do not necessarily mean the decoration was not completed. This category concerns spaces left blank for initials, miniatures and heraldic arms.
Gent, Rijksarchief, Archief van Sint-Baafs en bisdom Gent, B 2956, fol. 1r. Space left for the heraldic arms of the abbot not filled in.

1.2 Techniques

Term Definition Example
Illuminated A manuscript containing decorations and/or illustrations with vivid ('luminous') colours, often with gold or silver leaf. In the MMFC-database the term is used to cover a wide range of illustrated and decorated manuscripts. Any manuscripts with illustrations or with figurative decoration are considered to be illuminated. Manuscripts with any form of gilding are also considered to be illuminated. Manuscripts with basic decoration are considered illuminated, as soon as two or more colours or are used in the execution of individual decorative items. Therefore manuscripts containing pen-flourished initials where the pen-flourishing is executed in a different colour from the initial, or parted initials executed in two colours, are marked in the MMFC database as being illuminated. Manuscripts with simple initials executed in one colour, or containing rubrication but no other form of decoration are not considered to be illuminated.
Brugge, Archief Grootseminarie Ten Duinen, Ms. 48, fol. 23r.
Gilding ("illumination") Gold or silver leaf applied to the surface of the page as part of the decoration.
Gent, Bisschoppelijk Archief, HS. 10
Grisaille A technique in which the miniatures are executed in monochromatic shades of grey or another neutral colour.
Antwerpen, Museum Plantin-Moretus, M. 15.4, fol. 209r.
Camaïeu A technique very similar to grisaille with the difference that the images executed in different shades of a colour other than grey are often placed against a backdrop of a contrasting colour.
Londen, BL, MS 35313, fol.1v
Pen drawings Drawings executed in ink with a pointed pen (rather than a brush).
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0308, fol.x v-x' r.
Coloured pen drawings Drawings executed in pen and ink and fully coloured with opaque or transparent paint.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0470, fol. 193v.
Colour-touched pen drawings Drawings executed in pen and ink and partially accentuated or shaded with coloured ink or paint.
Sankt Gallen, Kantonsbibliothek VadSlg, Ms. 484, fol.24

1.3 Miniatures

Term Definition Example
Full-page miniatures Miniatures that occupy most of the page area, without leaving room for a text block.
Brugge, Archief Grootseminarie Ten Duinen, Ms. 48, fol. 174v.
Half-page miniatures Minatures that occupy the top or bottom half of the space between the outer margins of a page.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0006, fol. 3r.
Column-wide miniature A miniature that is the same width as a column of text on a page with the text divided in two or more columns.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0141, fol. 5v.

1.4 Border placement

Term Definition Example
Border (left)
Border decoration in the left margin of the page.
Paris, BNF, Ms. fr. 129, fol. 62v.
Border (outer) Border decoration in the outer margin of the pages (left margin on the verso side, right margin on the recto side).
Paris, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Ms. 645 fol. 46v-47r.
Border (I bracket) Border decoration in the intercolumnar space that extends over the top and border margins.
Antwerpen, Museum Plantin-Moretus, M15.1, fol. 9r.
Border (bracket-left) Border decoration in the left margin and the top and bottom margins of the page forming square angles on both the recto and verso. The decorations in the top and bottom margins do not reach beyond the middle of the page.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0074, fol. 11v
Border (bracket-outer) Border decoration in the outer margin and the top and/or bottom margin forming square angles on both the recto and verso. The decorations in the top and bottom margins do not reach beyond the middle of the page.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0074, fol. 228r.
Border (three-margins) Border decoration extending over three margins of the page. If the border decoration extends from the left margin or outer margin into the top of bottom margins, the appropriate subtype should also be indicated.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek HS.0209, fol.12v.
Border (three-margins left) Border decoration on three margins of the page including the left margin.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0203, fol. 29v.
Border (three-margins outer) Border decoration on three margins of the page including the outer margin (left on the verso side, right on the recto side).
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0203, fol. 21v.-22r.
Border (four-margins) Border decoration extending over the four margins of the page.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek HS.0003, fol. 1r.

1.5 Border style

Term Definition Example
J-staff border Decoration in the margin or intercolumnar space consisting of one or more J-shaped penwork motifs.


Synonym for J-staff border: J-chain, J-border

Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0296, fol. 3v-4r.
Bar (simple) Simple, linear border decoration, often executed in gold leaf or gold paint.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0017, fol. 1r.
Bar with spray Border decoration characterized by a simple bar motif combined with fine foliate tendrils and small gilded leaves. The spray can also consist of little gilded dots with fine black tendrils.
Antwerpen, Museum Plantin-Moretus, M 15.8, fol. 242r.
Band with spray Border consisting of a decorative band consisting of painted or painted-and-gilded sections combined with fine foliate tendrils and small gilded or painted leaves. The spray can also consist of little gilded dots with fine black tendrils.
Antwerpen, Museum Plantin-Moretus, M 14.16, fol. 43v.
Bar with floral border Border decoration consisting of a simple bar combined with scrolling vines, small gilded leaves and floral motifs.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0017, fol. 42r.
Band with floral border Border decoration consisting of a decorative band combined with scrolling vines, small gilded leaves and floral motifs.
Antwerpen, Museum Plantin-Moretus, M 14.7, fol. 53v.
Spray border Border decoration characterized by fine foliate tendrils with small gilded leaves that is not limited to one margin of the page. The spray can also consist of little gilded specks with fine black "antennas".
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0141, fol. 12r.
Penwork border Border consisting of monchromatic or bichromatic decorations executed in pen and ink.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0902, fol. 5r.
Floral border Border decoration with plant and flower motifs in colours and gold.
Antwerp, Museum Mayer van ben Bergh MMB.0620, fol. 226r.
Border in Ghent-Bruges style Border decoration with illusionistic depictions of plants, flowers or objects strewn across the margin, usually on a coloured or gilded backdrop.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek HS.0197, fol. 4r.
Inhabited border Border that contains depictions of living creatures: humans, animals, fantastical beasts, hybrids, ...
Antwerpen, Museum Plantin-Moretus, M 14.7 fol. 122r.

1.6 Initials

Term Definition Example
No initials There are no initials present in the manuscript. Given that initials are the simplest form of decoration, this usually implies that the manuscript lacks any form of decoration.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0290, fol. 5r.
No initials visible This description is only relevant in the case of fragmentary manuscripts. It indicates that no initials can be discerned in the remaining fragment. It does not necessarily mean that the complete manuscript did not contain initials.
Leuven, KU Leuven Bibliotheken Bijzondere Collecties, Ms. 1472, fol. 2r.
Versals One-line display letters, plain or decorated, that designate the start of a new paragraph, section or verse. Unlike initials, which are always positioned at the start of a line, versals can occur anywhere within the text area.
Leuven, KU Leuven Bibliotheken Bijzondere Collecties, Ms. 1379, fol. 121v.
Plain initials Undecorated initials that are larger than one text line, often executed in colours that are different from the text.


Synonyms for plain initials: plain coloured initials

Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0016, fol. i r.
Ornamental initials (Combined category) Any initials with non-figurative decoration. These include any type of pen-flourished initials, champ initials, parted initials or foliate initials.


Synonym for ornamental initials: lettrines.

Antwerpen, Ruusbroecgenootschap, Neerl. 9, fol. 1r
Pen-flourished initials Initials decorated with fine, linear embellishment in ink. Often these initials are (alternating) red initials with blue decorations and blue letters with red decorations.


Synonym for pen-flourished initials: litterae florissae

Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS. 0112, fol. 24r.
Champ initials Initials that consist of a gilded capital letter with red and blue infill on a background decorated with white geometric or foliate patterns.


Synonyms for champ initials: champies, filigree initials, dentelle initials

Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0105, fol.10r.
Parted initials Two-coloured initials (mostly red and blue) with a gap between the different-coloured parts of the initial.


Synonyms for parted initials: Puzzle initials, litterae duplex, divided initials

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Ms. nouv. acq. fr. 20023, fol. 16r.
Pen-flourished parted initials Two-coloured initials (mostly red and blue) with a gap between the different-coloured parts of the initial and decorated with fine geometrical and foliate motifs in ink.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS. 0010, fol. 1r.
Initials with interior reserved shapes Initials with unpainted, geometric shapes in the body of the letter.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0702, fol. 29v.
Pen-flourished initials with interior reserved shapes Initials with unpainted, geometric shapes in the body of the letter and decorated with fine linear motifs in pen and ink.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0200, fol. 6v.
Pen-flourished parted initials with interior reserved shapes Two-coloured initials (mostly red and blue) with a gap between the different coloured parts of the initial, containing unpainted, geometric shapes in the body of the letter and decorated with fine linear motifs in pen and ink.
Antwerpen, Museum Plantin-Moretus, M 14.18, fol. 59r.
Cadels Calligraphic initials and other letters executed in the colour of the text with decorative strapwork often extending the ascending or descending strokes of the letters. In cadels the single components of letters are broken down and represented by multiple pen strokes that are often either parallel or perpendicular to each other. The term 'cadel' covers a wide range of calligraphic initials written with broad penstrokes, some fairly simple others highly complex. Cadels are sometimes colour-stroked.


Synonym for cadels: lettres cadeaux

Antwerpen, Rijksarchief, Kerkarchief Zwijndrecht, nr. 256.
Cadels with figured pen drawings Cadels that are further decorated with figured pen drawings executed with a different fine-nibbed pen. These decorations mostly represent human heads, but can also include animals or realistically drawn plants or objects.
Dendermonde, Stadsarchief, Archief Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, Graduale.

Tongeren, Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Geboortebasiliek, , OLV-BO-074.
Foliate initials Initials decorated with vine stems, leaves or other plant motifs in the interior space of the letterform or in the space between the letter and the outer frame of the initial.


Synonym for foliate initials: vegetal initials

Mechelen, Stadsarchief, HH II (no folio numbers).
Interlace initials Initials decorated with interlacing motifs, eg. Celtic knots.
Oudenaarde, Stadsarchief, Oud archief stad Oudenaarde, nr. 889/23
Initials with marginal extensions Initials where the decoration extends into the margins or the intercolumnal space.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.1267, fol. 2r.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS 0005, fol. 103v.
Romanesque initials Initials formed with vines and leaves, generally without the use of gold, but often enriched with anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, architectural, or other types of decoration.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0023, fol. 12r
Figure initials Initials formed by the bodies of animals or human figures. If possible, a distinction should be made between zoomorphic or anthropomorphic initials.


- Anthropomorphic initials are figure initials formed by one or more human figures.

- Zoomorphic initials are figure initials formed by one or more animal figures.

Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0134, fol. 162r
Anthropomorphic initials Initials formed by the bodies of one or more human figures.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0022, fol. 85r
Zoomorphic initials Initials formed by the bodies of one or more animal figures.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0055, fol. 145r.
Inhabited initials Initials with animal or human figures in the interior space of the letter that cannot be identified as a narrative scene.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.2749.3-4, fol. 3r.
Historiated initials Initials decorated with an identifiable narrative scene or persons in the interior space of the letter.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0074, fol. 19v.
Trompe-l'oeil initials Initials formed from or decorated with illusionistic depictions of objects that appear to be resting on the surface of the page.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.1363, fol. 26r
Guide letters Small letters written by the scribe to show the illuminator which initial to draw or paint. Guide letters are often in cursive script and are written either in the margin or in the space left for the initial. In the latter case they are normally not visible unless the initial has been left unfinished.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0012, fol. 16v. A small cursive letter 'l' is visible in the space left for the initial that was not executed by the illuminator.

1.7 Other decorative elements

Term Definition Example
Paraphs Graphic symbols that indicate the start of a new paragraph.


Synonyms for paraphs: paragraph signs, pieds-de-mouche.

Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0134, fol. 1r.
Line fillers Decorative motifs that are used to fill the empty space at the end of a line. They can be painted or executed as penwork.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0204, fol. 1v-2r.
Rubrics Headings or other text segments that are underlined with a different colour ink from the text or that are written in a different colour from the rest of the text.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.0170, fol. 23v.
Colour stroking The use of a stroke or a touch of contrasting colour, often red or yellow, to accentuate a capital letter at the start of a new sentence or syntactic unit.
Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, HS.1267, fol. 32v.

2 Furniture (Binding decoration)

A list of possible decorations on the binding of manuscripts can be found at Binding characteristics.