Illuminated manuscripts are charmers. Most people who are attracted to the subject of books in this day and age have spent at least some time mooning very specifically over old books, because they are old, and therefore more special, and the most seductive of old books are illuminated manuscripts. Because they are shiny! And we are all enchanted by shiny things.
More informatively, illuminated manuscripts are manuscripts which feature decorative additions to the text, in the form of decorative initials, borders and illustrations. The most strict definition of the term only includes manuscripts that use gold or silver as a decorative element, (thus bringing the shininess), but commonly the term is used to talk about any decorated or illustrated Western manuscript, and sometime decorated Islamic manuscripts.
For more than a thousand years manuscripts were written and illustrated by hand. The earliest surviving manuscripts we have are from late Antiquity, AD 400 to 600, and were primarily produced by monastic scribes in Ireland, Italy and other locations on the European continent. Some of these early manuscripts served to preserve and maintain at least some of the literature and knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome. However, the majority of the surviving manuscripts we have are religious manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Manuscripts are among the most common items to survive from the time period; many thousands survive. They are also the best preserved specimens of medieval painting. Most of these were painted on parchment or vellum. Since illumination was a fairly complex and expensive habit, it was reserved for special books, like altar Bibles or “Books of Hours”, which recorded prayers for the wealthy appropriate for various times in their day.
|French Book of Hours, with border, illustration and decorated capital.|
Scribes working on a well-planned project would begin by sketching out the layout of the page, and then inking in the main body of the text, leaving room for the illustrator to work. Complex images could be planned out beforehand and then inked in. The bold use of color complimented the richness of the gilding.
An illuminated manuscript is not considered illuminated unless at least one illustration contains gold, either as foil or brushed with gold specks. The use of gold in a religious text is a sign of the exalted spiritual nature of the content.
|Saint Bernhard, and his letter B|
You might think that the set of techniques developed in the Middle Ages to illuminate pages may have disappeared over the years, but you would be wrong! Coming up in a matter of days is a workshop with a master of this medium, Karen Gorst, who will instruct you in the gilding of the page and the brilliant colors of the medieval palette. She is a veritable treasure house of knowledge on the subject, and I strongly urge you to not miss out.
Saturday and Sunday, 10 am to 4pm
Also, if you’ve fallen in love with the medieval manuscript and wish to see more, go fall into the rabbit hole known as the Digital Scriptorium, an online image database of medieval and renaissance manuscripts from various sources. Here. It.Is.
Images via wikipedia, thanks!
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