The first letter of a medieval text was often made to look like a picture. In these examples the capital letters are filled with action figures doing all sorts of gymnastic exercises. There is something special about them, because they are all taken not from regular medieval books but from so-called Alphabet Books. These objects were used by decorators: they provided patterns for each letter of the alphabet, in a variety of themes. The decorator picked a letter that he (or his client) liked and duplicated it onto the page he was working on. The diversity of styles is clear from the examples above, which are taken from three different late-medieval pattern books: some are funny, others serious. Most of them feature people in uncomfortable positions, as if they are attending yoga class. These one-letter shows acted as eye candy at the outset of the text: they got the reader in just the right mood.
The images above are from three sources: the Macclesfield Alphabet Book (London, British, Library, MS 8887), fully browsable here; Giovannino de’ Grassi’s notebook (Bergamo, Biblioteca Civica, MS Cassaf. 1.21), viewable here; and the alphabet book of Gregorius Bock (Yale, Beinecke Library, MS 439, of 1510-17), online here.