An illuminated manuscript is a formally prepared manuscript where the text is often supplemented with flourishes such as borders, and miniature illustrations. Often used in the Roman Catholic Church for prayers, liturgical services and psalms, the practice continued into secular texts from the 13th century onward and typically include proclamations, enrolled bills, laws, charters, inventories and deeds.
While Islamic manuscripts can also be called illuminated, and use essentially the same techniques, comparable Far Eastern and Mesoamerican works are described as painted.
The earliest illuminated manuscripts in existence come from the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths and the Eastern Roman Empire and date from between 400 and 600 CE. Examples include the Codex Argenteus and the Rossano Gospels, both of which are from the 6th-century. The majority of extant manuscripts are from the Middle Ages, although many survive from the Renaissance, along with a very limited number from Late Antiquity.
Most medieval manuscripts, illuminated or not, were written on parchment or vellum.These pages were then bound into books, called codices (singular: codex). A very few illuminated fragments also survive on papyrus. Books ranged in size from ones smaller than a modern paperback, such as the pocket gospel, to very large ones such as choirbooks for choirs to sing from, and "Atlantic" bibles, requiring more than one person to lift them.
Paper manuscripts appeared during the Late Middle Ages.Very early printed books left spaces for red text, known as rubrics, miniature illustrations and illuminated initials, all of which would have been added later by hand. Drawings in the margins (known as marginalia) would also allow scribes to add their own notes, diagrams, translations, and even comic flourishes.
The introduction of printing rapidly led to the decline of illumination. Illuminated manuscripts continued to be produced in the early 16th century but in much smaller numbers, mostly for the very wealthy. They are among the most common items to survive from the Middle Ages; many thousands survive. They are also the best surviving specimens of medieval painting, and the best preserved. Indeed, for many areas and time periods, they are the only surviving examples of painting.
Art historians classify illuminated manuscripts into their historic periods and types, including (but not limited to) Late Antique, Insular, Carolingian manuscripts, Ottonian manuscripts, Romanesque manuscripts, Gothic manuscripts, and Renaissance manuscripts. There are a few examples from later periods. The type of book most often heavily and richly illuminated is sometimes known as a "display book." In the first millennium, these were most likely to be Gospel Books, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells. The Romanesque and Gothic periods saw the creation of many large illuminated complete bibles. The largest surviving example of these is The Codex Gigas in Sweden; it is so massive that it takes three librarians to lift it.
Other illuminated liturgical books appeared during and after the Romanesque period. These included Psalters, and small, personal devotional books known as Books of Hours. These items were often richly illuminated with miniatures, decorated initials and floral borders. They were costly and therefore only owned by wealthy patrons.
As the production of manuscripts shifted from monasteries to the public sector during the High Middle Ages, illuminated books began to reflect secular interests.These included short stories, legends of the saints, tales of chivalry, mythological stories, and even accounts of criminal, social or miraculous occurrences. Some of these were also freely used by storytellers and itinerant actors to support their plays.
The Byzantine world produced manuscripts in its own style, versions of which spread to other Orthodox and Eastern Christian areas. With their traditions of literacy uninterrupted by the Middle Ages, the Muslim World, especially on the Iberian Peninsula, was instrumental in delivering ancient classic works to the growing intellectual circles and universities of Western Europe throughout the 12th century. Books were produced there in large numbers and on paper for the first time in Europe, and with them full treatises on the sciences, especially astrology and medicine where illumination was required to have profuse and accurate representations with the text.
The Gothic period, which generally saw an increase in the production of illuminated books, also saw more secular works such as chronicles and works of literature illuminated. Wealthy people began to build up personal libraries; Philip the Bold probably had the largest personal library of his time in the mid-15th century, is estimated to have had about 600 illuminated manuscripts, whilst a number of his friends and relations had several dozen. Wealthy patrons, however, could have personal prayer books made especially for them, usually in the form of richly illuminated "books of hours," which set down prayers appropriate for various times in the liturgical day. One of the best known examples is the extravagant Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry for a French prince.
Up to the 12th century, most manuscripts were produced in monasteries in order to add to the library or after receiving a commission from a wealthy patron. Larger monasteries often contained separate areas for the monks who specialized in the production of manuscripts called a scriptorium. Within the walls of a scriptorium were individualized areas where a monk could sit and work on a manuscript without being disturbed by his fellow brethren. If no scriptorium was available, then "separate little rooms were assigned to book copying; they were situated in such a way that each scribe had to himself a window open to the cloister walk".
By the 14th century, the cloisters of monks writing in the scriptorium had almost fully given way to commercial urban scriptoria, especially in Paris, Rome and the Netherlands.While the process of creating an illuminated manuscript did not change, the move from monasteries to commercial settings was a radical step. Demand for manuscripts grew to an extent that Monastic libraries began to employ secular scribes and illuminators. These individuals often lived close to the monastery and, in instances, dressed as monks whenever they entered the monastery, but were allowed to leave at the end of the day. In reality, illuminators were often well known and acclaimed and many of their identities have survived.
Illumination was a complex and costly process, and was therefore usually reserved for special books such as altar bibles, or books for royalty. In the early Middle Ages, most books were produced in monasteries, whether for their own use, for presentation, or for a commission. However, commercial scriptoria grew up in large cities, especially Paris, and in Italy and the Netherlands, and by the late 14th century there was a significant industry producing manuscripts, including agents who would take long-distance commissions, with details of the heraldry of the buyer and the saints of personal interest to him (for the calendar of a book of hours). By the end of the period, many of the painters were women, perhaps especially in Paris.
The type of script depended on local customs and tastes. In England, for example, Textura was widely used from the 12th to 16th centuries, while a cursive hand known as Anglicana emerged around 1260 for business documents.In the Frankish Empire, Carolingian miniscule emerged under the vast educational program of Charlemagne.
The first step was to send the manuscript to a rubricator, "who added (in red or other colors) the titles, headlines, the initials of chapters and sections, the notes and so on; and then – if the book was to be illustrated – it was sent to the illuminator".These letters and notes would be applied using an ink-pot and either a sharpened quill feather or reed pen. In the case of manuscripts that were sold commercially, the writing would "undoubtedly have been discussed initially between the patron and the scribe (or the scribe’s agent,) but by the time that the written gathering were sent off to the illuminator there was no longer any scope for innovation".
The sturdy Roman letters of the early Middle Ages gradually gave way to scripts such as Uncial and half-Uncial, especially in the British Isles, where distinctive scripts such as insular majuscule and insular minuscule developed. Stocky, richly textured blackletter was first seen around the 13th century and was particularly popular in the later Middle Ages. Prior to the days of such careful planning, "A typical black-letter page of these Gothic years would show a page in which the lettering was cramped and crowded into a format dominated by huge ornamented capitals that descended from uncial forms or by illustrations".To prevent such poorly made manuscripts and illuminations from occurring, a script was typically supplied first, "and blank spaces were left for the decoration. This presupposes very careful planning by the scribe even before he put pen to parchment".
The following steps outline the detailed labor involved to create the illuminations of one page of a manuscript:
The illumination and decoration was normally planned at the inception of the work, and space reserved for it. However, the text was usually written before illumination began. In the Early Medieval period the text and illumination were often done by the same people, normally monks, but by the High Middle Ages the roles were typically separated, except for routine initials and flourishes, and by at least the 14th century there were secular workshops producing manuscripts, and by the beginning of the 15th century these were producing most of the best work, and were commissioned even by monasteries. When the text was complete, the illustrator set to work. Complex designs were planned out beforehand, probably on wax tablets, the sketch pad of the era. The design was then traced or drawn onto the vellum (possibly with the aid of pinpricks or other markings, as in the case of the Lindisfarne Gospels). Many incomplete manuscripts survive from most periods, giving us a good idea of working methods.
At all times, most manuscripts did not have images in them. In the early Middle Ages, manuscripts tend to either be display books with very full illumination, or manuscripts for study with at most a few decorated initials and flourishes. By the Romanesque period many more manuscripts had decorated or historiated initials, and manuscripts essentially for study often contained some images, often not in color. This trend intensified in the Gothic period, when most manuscripts had at least decorative flourishes in places, and a much larger proportion had images of some sort. Display books of the Gothic period in particular had very elaborate decorated borders of foliate patterns, often with small drolleries. A Gothic page might contain several areas and types of decoration: a miniature in a frame, a historiated initial beginning a passage of text, and a border with drolleries. Often different artists worked on the different parts of the decoration.
While the use of gold is by far one of the most captivating features of illuminated manuscripts, the bold use of varying colors provided multiple layers of dimension to the illumination. From a religious perspective, "the diverse colors wherewith the book is illustrated, not unworthily represent the multiple grace of heavenly wisdom."
The medieval artist's palette was broad; a partial list of pigments is given below. In addition, unlikely-sounding substances such as urine and earwax were used to prepare pigments.
|Red||Insect-based colors, including: |
Chemical- and mineral-based colors, including:
|Yellow||Plant-based colors, such as: |
Mineral-based colors, including:
|Blue||Plant-based substances such as: |
Chemical- and mineral-based colors, including:
On the strictest definition, a manuscript is not considered "illuminated" unless one or many illuminations contained metal, normally gold leaf or shell gold paint, or at least was brushed with gold specks. Gold leaf was from the 12th century usually polished, a process known as burnishing. The inclusion of gold alludes to many different possibilities for the text. If the text is of religious nature lettering in gold is a sign of exalting the text. In the early centuries of Christianity, “Gospel manuscripts were sometimes written entirely in gold".The gold ground style, with all or most of the background in gold, was taken from Byzantine mosaics and icons. Aside from adding rich decoration to the text, scribes during the time considered themselves to be praising God with their use of gold. Furthermore, gold was used if a patron who had commissioned a book to be written wished to display the vastness of his riches. Eventually, the addition of gold to manuscripts became so frequent, "that its value as a barometer of status with the manuscript was degraded". During this time period the price of gold had become so cheap that its inclusion in an illuminated manuscript accounted for only a tenth of the cost of production. By adding richness and depth to the manuscript, the use of gold in illuminations created pieces of art that are still valued today.
The application of gold leaf or dust to an illumination is a very detailed process that only the most skilled illuminators can undertake and successfully achieve. The first detail an illuminator considered when dealing with gold was whether to use gold leaf or specks of gold that could be applied with a brush. When working with gold leaf the pieces would be hammered and thinned until they were "thinner than the thinnest paper".The use of this type of leaf allowed for numerous areas of the text to be outlined in gold. There were several ways of applying gold to an illumination one of the most popular included mixing the gold with stag's glue and then "pour it into water and dissolve it with your finger". Once the gold was soft and malleable in the water it was ready to be applied to the page. Illuminators had to be very careful when applying gold leaf to the manuscript. Gold leaf is able to "adhere to any pigment which had already been laid, ruining the design, and secondly the action of burnishing it is vigorous and runs the risk of smudging any painting already around it."
Monasteries produced manuscripts for their own use; heavily illuminated ones tended to be reserved for liturgical use in the early period, while the monastery library held plainer texts. In the early period manuscripts were often commissioned by rulers for their own personal use or as diplomatic gifts, and many old manuscripts continued to be given in this way, even into the Early Modern period. Especially after the book of hours became popular, wealthy individuals commissioned works as a sign of status within the community, sometimes including donor portraits or heraldry: "In a scene from the New Testament, Christ would be shown larger than an apostle, who would be bigger than a mere bystander in the picture, while the humble donor of the painting or the artist himself might appear as a tiny figure in the corner."The calendar was also personalized, recording the feast days of local or family saints. By the end of the Middle Ages many manuscripts were produced for distribution through a network of agents, and blank spaces might be reserved for the appropriate heraldry to be added locally by the buyer.
Displaying the amazing detail and richness of a text, the addition of illumination was never an afterthought. The inclusion of illumination is twofold, it added value to the work, but more importantly it provides pictures for the illiterate members of society to "make the reading seem more vivid and perhaps more credible".
A manuscript was, traditionally, any document written by hand – or, once practical typewriters became available, typewritten – as opposed to mechanically printed or reproduced in some indirect or automated way. More recently, the term has come to be understood to further include any written, typed, or word-processed copy of an author's work, as distinguished from its rendition as a printed version of the same. Before the arrival of printing, all documents and books were manuscripts. Manuscripts are not defined by their contents, which may combine writing with mathematical calculations, maps, music notation, explanatory figures or illustrations.
Scriptorium, literally "a place for writing", is commonly used to refer to a room in medieval European monasteries devoted to the writing, copying and illuminating of manuscripts commonly handled by monastic scribes.
The book of hours is a Christian devotional book popular in the Middle Ages. It is the most common type of surviving medieval illuminated manuscript. Like every manuscript, each manuscript book of hours is unique in one way or another, but most contain a similar collection of texts, prayers and psalms, often with appropriate decorations, for Christian devotion. Illumination or decoration is minimal in many examples, often restricted to decorated capital letters at the start of psalms and other prayers, but books made for wealthy patrons may be extremely lavish, with full-page miniatures. These illustrations would combine picturesque scenes of country life with sacred images. Books of hours were usually written in Latin, although there are many entirely or partially written in vernacular European languages, especially Dutch. The English term primer is usually now reserved for those books written in English. Tens of thousands of books of hours have survived to the present day, in libraries and private collections throughout the world.
The Echternach Gospels were produced, presumably, at Lindisfarne Abbey in Northumbria around the year 690. This location was very significant for the production of Insular manuscripts, such as the Durham Gospels and the Lindisfarne Gospels. The scribe of the Durham Gospels is believed to have created the Echternach Gospels as well. The Echternach Gospels are now in the collection of France's Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.
The Godescalc Evangelistary, Godescalc Sacramentary, Godescalc Gospels, or Godescalc Gospel Lectionary is an illuminated manuscript in Latin made by the Frankish scribe Godescalc and today kept in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. It was commissioned by the Carolingian king Charlemagne and his wife Hildegard on October 7, 781 and completed on April 30, 783. The Evangelistary is the earliest known manuscript produced at the scriptorium in Charlemagne's Court School in Aachen. The manuscript was intended to commemorate Charlemagne's march to Italy, his meeting with Pope Adrian I, and the baptism of his son Pepin. The crediting of the work to Godescalc and the details of Charlemagne's march are contained in the manuscript's dedication poem.
The Codex Gigas is the largest extant medieval illuminated manuscript in the world, at a length of 92 cm (36 in). Very large illuminated bibles were a typical feature of Romanesque monastic book production, but even within this group, the page-size of the Codex Gigas is noted as exceptional. The manuscript is also known as the Devil's Bible, due to its highly unusual full-page portrait of Satan, and the legend surrounding its creation.
The Stockholm Codex Aureus is a Gospel book written in the mid-eighth century in Southumbria, probably in Canterbury, whose decoration combines Insular and Italian elements. Southumbria produced a number of important illuminated manuscripts during the eighth and early ninth centuries, including the Vespasian Psalter, the Stockholm Codex Aureus, three Mercian prayer books, the Tiberius Bede and the British Library's Royal Bible.
The Saint John’s Bible is the first completely handwritten and illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine abbey since the invention of the printing press.
A historiated initial is an initial, an enlarged letter at the beginning of a paragraph or other section of text, that contains a picture. Strictly speaking, a historiated initial depicts an identifiable figure or a specific scene, while an inhabited initial contains figures that are decorative only, without forming a subject. Both sorts became very common and elaborate in luxury illuminated manuscripts. These illustrated initials were first seen in the Insular art of the early 8th century. The earliest known example is in the Saint Petersburg Bede, an Insular manuscript of 731-46, and the Vespasian Psalter has another.
Armenian illuminated manuscripts form a separate tradition, related to other forms of Medieval Armenian art, but also to the Byzantine tradition. The earliest surviving examples date from the Golden Age of Armenian art and literature in the 5th century. Early Armenian Illuminated manuscripts are remarkable for their festive designs to the Armenian culture; they make one feel the power of art and the universality of its language. The greatest Armenian miniaturist, Toros Roslin, lived in the 13th century.
Manuscript culture uses manuscripts to store and disseminate information; in the West, it generally preceded the age of printing. In early manuscript culture, monks copied manuscripts by hand. They copied not just religious works, but a variety of texts including some on astronomy, herbals, and bestiaries. Medieval manuscript culture deals with the transition of the manuscript from the monasteries to the market in the cities, and the rise of universities. Manuscript culture in the cities created jobs built around the making and trade of manuscripts, and typically was regulated by universities. Late manuscript culture was characterized by a desire for uniformity, well-ordered and convenient access to the text contained in the manuscript, and ease of reading aloud. This culture grew out of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the rise of the Devotio Moderna. It included a change in materials, and was subject to remediation by the printed book, while also influencing it.
The conservation and restoration of illuminated manuscripts is the care and treatment of illuminated manuscripts which have cultural and historical significance so that they may be viewed, read, and studied now and in the future. It is a specialty case of the conservation and restoration of parchment within the field of conservation and restoration of books, manuscripts, documents and ephemera.
William de Brailes was an English Early Gothic manuscript illuminator, presumably born in Brailes, Warwickshire. He signed two manuscripts, and apparently worked in Oxford, where he is documented from 1238 to 1252, owning property in Catte Street near the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, roughly on the site now occupied by the chapel of All Souls College, where various members of the book-trade lived. He was married, to Celena, but evidently also held minor orders, as at least three self-portraits show him with a clerical tonsure. This was not unusual: by this date, and with the exception of the St. Albans monk Matthew Paris, the only other English illuminator of the period about whom we have significant personal information, most English illumination seems to have been done in commercial workshops run by laymen.
The Gospels of Otto III is considered a superb example of Ottonian art because of the scope, planning, and execution of the work. The book has 276 parchment pages and has twelve canon tables, a double page portrait of Otto III, portraits of the four evangelists, and 29 full page miniatures illustrating scenes from the New Testament. The cover is the original, with a tenth-century carved Byzantine ivory inlay representing the Dormition of the Virgin. Produced at the monastery at Reichenau Abbey in about 1000 CE., the manuscript is an example of the highest quality work that was produced over 150 years at the monastery.
The Grandes Heures de Rohan is an illuminated manuscript book of hours, painted by the anonymous artist known as the Rohan Master, probably between 1418 and 1425, in the Gothic style. It contains the usual offices, prayers and litanies in Latin, along with supplemental texts, decorated with 11 full page, 54 half page, and 227 small miniatures, decorated with tempera paints and gold leaf. The book margins are decorated with Old Testament miniatures with captions in Old French, in the style of a Bible moralisée. The full page illuminations are renowned for the highly emotional and dramatic portrayal of the agonies of Christ and the grief of the Virgin. According to Millard Meiss, "The Rohan Master cared less about what people do than what they feel. Whereas his great predecessors excelled in the description of the novel aspects of the natural world, he explored the realm of human feeling." Meiss concludes that the Rohan Master was the "greatest expressionist in 15th century France." Today, this manuscript is housed in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France.
The Winchester Bible is a Romanesque illuminated manuscript produced in Winchester between 1150 and 1175 for Winchester Cathedral. With folios measuring 583 x 396 mm., it is the largest surviving 12th-century English Bible. The Winchester Bible is important to understanding the history of medieval art, because it was left only partially completed, giving insight into the creation and production of these kinds of Bibles. It can still be seen in the Winchester Cathedral Library, which has been its home for more than eight hundred years. Before it was returned to Winchester Cathedral, the Bible had many owners and suffered because of it. Pages have been removed and torn out; one of those pages is known as the Morgan Leaf and is now owned by the Morgan Library in New York.
The Black Hours, MS M.493 is an illuminated book of hours completed in Bruges between 1460 and 1475. It consists of 121 pages (leaves), with Latin text written in Gothic minuscule script. The words are arranged in rows of fourteen lines and follow the Roman version of the texts. The lettering is inscribed in silver and gold and placed within borders ornamented with flowers, foliage and grotesques, on pages dyed a deep blueish black. It contains fourteen full-page miniatures and opens with the months of the liturgical calendar, followed by the Hours of the Virgin, and ends with the Office of the Dead.
TheCopenhagen Psalter is a 12th-century illuminated manuscript psalter, made in England. It may have been created for the education of the boy king, King Canute VI of Denmark. This manuscript is known for the many artists who contributed to the full-page illuminations. The Copenhagen Psalter is currently in Denmark.
Patricia Lovett is a British scribe, calligrapher and illuminator from Kent. She is the author of several books and teaches calligraphy, illumination and manuscript skills in the UK and worldwide. Since 2017 she has been chair of the Heritage Crafts Association, having been vice-chair for several years previously and in 2013 was awarded an MBE for services to calligraphy and the protection of heritage crafts.
The Abbey Bible is a complex illuminated manuscript, created in Bologna, Italy in the mid-thirteenth century. It is an example of a Gothic-style Bible, with significant Byzantine influence. This manuscript is especially known for its distinctive marginal imagery. The Abbey Bible now resides at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, CA.
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