I’m not trying to get calligraphic or anything (really) but I have a project where I write things by hand into an A4 journal.  I know there will be corrections and editions so I have been writing only on the right page, leaving the left page blank.  Well, that looks dumb.  So I thought instead of using the entire page, I’d use both left and right pages, but leave a big margin for corrections and comments just like medieval manuscripts.  That means I’ll pencil a box of a certain dimension on each page and write within the box.  I wondered what the “proper” dimensions of the text box, or even if there were such a thing as a “proper” dimension.


J.A. Van de Graaf wondered the same thing after studying manuscripts and early books of the last half of the 15th century.  Using the tools and methods of the era, he derived a system of dividing book pages using a “secret canon.”  


I traced out a few pages of my journal using the secret canon and it made my trivialities and sloppy handwriting seem important.  But I was thinking that the margins were too big for my purpose.  Only about 44% of the page is the text area.


Well, it so happens that all we know about 13th century architect Villard de Honnencourt is on 33 pages of a manuscript of his.  Luckily, one of those pages shows a diagram showing how to make text boxes of various sizes on a book page.  The one dividing the page into 9 by 9 blocks reproduces the size and placement of a box made using the Van de Graaf secret canon perfectly.  In addition, he presents a method for dividing the page into 12 by 12 blocks which gives a text area of 56%.  Perfect.


I’m not very good with careful work (I always thought) so I surprised myself at my monkish precision and thought I would show off my handiwork.  I later darkened the outline of the boxes so you can see the difference in size better.  I used G. Lalo Vergé de France A4 sheet for the templates.  (You’ll note I made a procedural error in the Honnencourt template, but drawing over using the correct procedure resulted in the same reference points!)


You can read about these systems and see some diagrams at Reitnart’s blog.  You can watch a Youtube video showing how the Van de Graaf canon is made here.


P.S. Shown are only right pages.  My scanner can’t accommodate both pages.  Is it telling that I complete the right page as the reference rather than the left?