, ,

This article was written for a class to be presented at the Known World Heralds and Scribes Symposium, but then I came down with the flu and couldn’t be there. So I’m posting it here in hopes someone may find it useful. It’s aimed at scribal research but the concepts apply to any discipline.   – Arianna of Wynthrope

You just gotten a scroll assignment. What to do next? Search online for a design, right? So let’s say you search on “French renaissance illuminated manuscript” and select Images. Jackpot!


You click an image you like.


You can now check Related Images to see if there’s anything similar that you like better. When you find the image you want, look below the name of the page. Here we can see it says… Uh, oh. Pinterest!



We know that Pinterest is NOT a good source. Yes, there’s some great stuff there, but many of the images you find there will be scrolls created by SCA scribes. DON’T USE THESE. They might be fine, based on good research, but there’s no easy way to tell. They might just as well be somebody’s fantasy mishmosh, and either way they constitute tertiary sources with no documentation.

Many other links on Pinterest might look like period manuscripts, but won’t reliably connect you to the original source document. Plus, some styles are hard to pin down on time period. I went looking for 16th century Persian manuscripts one time and found 19th century Malaysian ones that looked very, very similar in style. You need to keep digging!

Even with Pinterest, all is not lost! Let’s dive into the bowels of Pinterest, shall we? Click the link for Visit, NOT Save. You need to explore the image to find its source, time period, etc.

And here we are, on someone’s lovely Pinterest page. She’s been kind enough to label her images with their actual sources, yay!


But we can’t just take her word for it. After scrolling down to find the image we want, we click it to see if we can get to the source.


Hmm, not much help here. Let’s click the image again.


A website for a University! This looks promising. After a little filtering on renaissance art and images of the Virgin Mary, we scroll down to find our page – and it includes attribution to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England! Bingo!


Ideally, however, we’re not done yet. Let’s Google the Fitzwilliam Museum and search their website. It took a little clicking around, but finally under their Collections Explorer, we hit gold – Illuminated Manuscripts!


Clicking that link brings us to a page with links to lots of illuminated manuscripts including information on their time and place of origin. Which one contains the page we liked? Honestly, do we care? Because this is such a treasure trove, it’s time to just bookmark the whole collection!

Image9As it happens, we can use the options under Refine your results by to filter the search to just French manuscripts and hopefully find the actual source for the image. However, sometimes we won’t find it, maybe because the image has been removed since it was posted to that Pinterest page, which appears to be the case for this lovely page.

Why is it so important to get to the original source? The word you want is Provenance.

Provenance is a list of who had possession of the manuscript from the time it was (purportedly) created until now. Good sources have a complete provenance with no gaps, so we know they aren’t fakes.

If you never get to a source that lists the manuscript’s time, place, and provenance, you cannot rely on it to be an actual period document. If you want to use it anyway, that’s fine, but if you’re entering it in an A&S competition where documentation is important, or you just really want to be sure you’re basing your scroll on a good source, you need to be a little picky.

Reverse Image Searching

If Pinterest is stubbornly taking you around in circles, here’s a way to break out of Pinterest Hell – reverse image search.

Reverse image searching lets you tell the internet “Go find me other web pages with images that look like this one.” There are several ways to perform a reverse image search.

1. In Google Chrome, on any image, right-click the image and select Search Google for image.



2. Ta-da! It shows us that the original of this image probably came from the Morgan Library.


3. But that’s not enough. We need to verify the actual manuscript. Click the thumbnail of the picture.


4. Now we’re in a funhouse of multiple copies of the same image. As you hover your cursor over each copy of the image, a hint as to its origin displays. For example, with the cursor over the image on the far right, we can see that this one is stored at… Pinterest. OK, we know to skip that one!


As it happens, ALL of them are from Pinterest… except this one:
5. Hmm, let’s click it.


6. Aha! The Morgan Library! So we click Visit, and… woohoo, the real thing!


7. Clicking the See more information link gets us tons of information about this manuscript, including a detailed description and the manuscript’s Provenance!


We did it! We found the actual period manuscript from which this image came, and all of the information about it! Exhausting, wasn’t it?

If you don’t have Google Chrome, you can still do a reverse image search

1. Right-click the image and select Copy link address.


2. Go to Google.com and, in the upper-right corner, select Images.


3. In the Google search bar, click the camera icon to search by image.


4. Press Ctrl-V to paste the image’s address into the Paste Image URL field and click Search by Image.


5. This gets us to the same place as step 2 in the search using Google Chrome as discussed above. This is why you should probably just use Chrome.


Note: there are other websites that perform reverse image searches using the address of the image, like www.tineye.com. Each of them may produce different results. Use whichever one you like.

A Better Way

Instead of searching through random stuff on the web, a better bet is to use sites with lots of manuscripts that you know are legitimate, like universities, libraries, and museums. Then, bookmark them! Here are a few great ones:

• British Library: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/
• French National Library: http://www.bnf.fr/en/bnf/dpt_mss_eng.html
• Bodleian Library: https://tinyurl.com/jz7upwc
• Walters Museum: http://manuscripts.thewalters.org/
• Huntingdon Library at UC Berkeley: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/digitalscriptorium/huntington/search.html
• Getty Library free downloadable books on illumination: https://tinyurl.com/zgukg56
• Vatican Library: http://digi.vatlib.it/?ling=en
• University of Pennsylvania: http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/medren/index.html
• Japanese Scrolls from the 12th – 16th century at Harvard Law School: https://tinyurl.com/zzunz22

There are also sites that aggregate links to other manuscript sites. You should bookmark them, too!

• Digitized Medieval Manuscripts App (DMMAPP): http://digitizedmedievalmanuscripts.org/app/
• The Monastic Manuscript Project: http://www.earlymedievalmonasticism.org/listoflinks.html#Digital
• The Virtual Library of Medieval Manuscripts: http://bvmm.irht.cnrs.fr/

Find manuscripts that are famous, unusual, or just catch your fancy, and bookmark them!

• Book of Kells: http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v
• Luttrell Psalter: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_42130
• Bedford Hours: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_18850
• Tres Riches Heures: http://www.wga.hu/html_m/l/limbourg/
• Gorleston Psalter: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_49622
• Macclesfield Psalter: http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/gallery/macclesfield/gallery/
• Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta: https://tinyurl.com/jm83ugd
• Shahnameh (11th c. Persian poem): http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/gallery/shahnameh/index.html
• Hours of Catherine of Cleves: http://www.themorgan.org/collection/Hours-of-Catherine-of-Cleves/thumbs

Keep in mind that the location of a museum or library is not necessarily related to the place of origin of the books in its collection; e.g. the Welsh National Library has mostly French & English mss., while the British Library has an extensive collection of Hebrew manuscripts.

Some cultures just didn’t have their own distinctive styles. The Scots and Welsh mostly borrowed from England, while Belgium borrowed from France and Germany. Some cultures didn’t create a lot of manuscripts at all – we don’t have much from the Scandanavian countries, for instance, so for someone with a Viking persona you probably want to look for something Anglo-Saxon instead.

Using the image you just found

Now that you’ve got a good source, how to use it? Save the images so you can access them offline later. You may want to print them out, in color if possible, to have on hand while painting your scroll (though if you have a tablet, accessing them directly online works, too).

If the image is just a single page with no zoom options, you can use your trusty right-click to invoke the menu and then either select Save image as and give it a name and location where you want to save it, or choose Copy image and then paste it into a Word document. When there are multiple pages of a manuscript that I like, I prefer the latter, since I can then have a single document with all of the images from a single manuscript.


When I’m on a page with zoom features, I prefer to zoom into the parts I want and then take screenshots. The [Prnt Scrn] button works for that, but for better control, on a PC I prefer the Snipping Tool.

  • Access the Snipping Tool from a Windows computer’s Start menu under Windows Accessories to take screenshots.
  • Zoom in for closeups of the detailed areas before taking your screenshots.
  • Paste them into a Word document.
  • Type the URL and a name and description of each ms. into the Word doc for later reference, so you know where you got them.
  • If you want to be able to trace an image onto your scroll paper, use Word’s Format Picture feature to change your image to black and white. If necessary, fiddle with the Brightness and Contrast to make the image easier to see. Resize the image to the size you need, print it, and trace.


Bookmark and, if possible, download any facsimiles recommended to you that you think might be useful or interesting. Create folders on your hard drive for the Word docs you created – you can re-use images for multiple scrolls.

Facebook groups

Lots of people from all over the SCA are on various scribal Facebook groups, posting photos of their work, links to manuscripts, questions, and advice. People who are especially good sources of info on these sites who I know pretty well include: Master Giles from Lochac, aka Mark Calderwood; Master Ranthulfr from the Middle, aka Randy Asplund, Lord Ian TheGreen from the Middle, Mistress Tetchubah from Caid, aka Carolyn Richardson, and Mistress Katarina Helene from the Middle, aka Helen Schultz. Folks on these groups are generally kind, helpful, and will not critique a scroll posted on the group unless the poster explicitly asks for it.

• SCA Scribes: https://www.facebook.com/groups/17176888696/
• SCA Scribes and Illumination: https://www.facebook.com/groups/scascribesandillumination/
• AEthelmearc Scribes: https://www.facebook.com/groups/856443857757993/
• SCA Scroll Gallery: https://www.facebook.com/groups/331906713606125/