Pet Book Report #5: “Scribe’s Flowers” and the Dragon Prayer Book

Although there is only one “image” in the pages of the Dragon Prayer Book, which is the decorated “R” initial on the first page, I think it can be argued that every page with text in the Dragon Prayer Book serves as an image. When I first looked inside the prayer book, the pages of writing seemed more like paintings than they did text. I could barely separate letters from words, and so each page looked like a block of script, but also like a collection of curves and lines. While reading Juliet Fleming’s article, “How to Look at a Printed Flower,” I began to wonder whether there were any instances of printer’s flowers in the Dragon Prayer Book. Of course, there is no typed text in the prayer book, but I was able to draw some connections between decorations in the prayer book and flowers created by printers with pieces of type. For example, on the first page, circular swirls surround the “R” and line the left side of the page. Though not created with type, the shapes seem repetitive in the same way as printer’s flowers. Flourishes and decorative swirls like those on the first page can be found on nearly every page of the Dragon Prayer Book. These “scribe’s flowers” then seem to contrast with the single, realistically drawn flower within the initial.

The Dragon Prayer Book was rebound, likely between the 17th and 19th century, but we have not found a way to know for certain the exact date this was done. In her article, Fleming describes printer’s flowers as “the stylized, interlaced and foliated designs that appear in printed books… produced from ordinary, metal, movable types, which bear designs rather than letter symbols” (Fleming 165). I think that the stamping on the cover of the Dragon Prayer Book is extremely similar to printer’s flowers. Like the decorations created with metal type, the stamping on the cover was likely created with metal hand tools which left an impression in the leather. In the center of the cover is the stamped image of the crucifixion, which is repeated on the back cover as well (so it was likely created with a crucifixion-shaped stamp). Near the edges of the front and back covers, small flowers create a border of identical shapes. I now study the Dragon Prayer Book through images kept in Northeastern’s Digital Repository, rather than in person, and have little contact with the physical book. Through these photographs, the covers of the prayer book (and arguably the pages) become two dimensional, and the depth of the stamping detail is somewhat lost. But, in the Digital Repository, the prayer book becomes a set of easily accessible images. While not a book created with type, the Dragon Prayer Book has elements which recall the decorative purpose of printer’s flowers, and, on the covers, the methods used to create them.


Decorated “R” in the Dragon Prayer Book


Cover of the Dragon Prayer Book with floral stamping

Cover of the Dragon Prayer Book with floral stamping

One thought on “Pet Book Report #5: “Scribe’s Flowers” and the Dragon Prayer Book

  1. In another related article, Fleming mentions that the designs for printers’ flowers were taken from tooled bindings like the dragon prayer book’s! I wonder how conservative this technology is -do the printers’ flowers then go on to inform tooling on bindings, or do binding toolings stay pretty much the same through two centuries?

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