Article

Illuminated Manuscripts

Catherine E. Karkov

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online December 2010 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0047
Illuminated Manuscripts

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

GO

Show Summary Details

Preview

Manuscripts are books that have been produced by hand. Illuminated manuscripts are books that have been decorated in ways that help bring to light the book’s contents. The word drives from the Latin illuminare (“to light up”), and medieval illumination should be understood as providing a gloss, or visual commentary, on the way the book was intended to be used and/or understood. For example, illuminated letters provided a guide to important passages or sections of a book. Narrative illumination could do the same, but it also often used to provide additional information or commentary on the written words of the text. Depictions of the labors of the months could show the reader what happened on the days listed in a calendar, while images of Christ, Mary, and the saints in prayer books or Books of Hours (late medieval books used for private devotion) provided a focus for the written prayers these manuscripts contained. Such images are called “miniatures,” named after the reddish pigment derived from minium that was used to frame the images of late Antiquity and early Christian manuscripts. The colors used in medieval illumination were, for the most part, mineral pigments. In the classical world manuscripts took the form of scrolls that were unwound as the reader progressed in a linear fashion from beginning to end. During late Antiquity the scroll was replaced by the codex, the form of the modern book, with its gatherings of pages bound together into a volume whose pages were turned individually. The change provided a differently shaped field for text and illumination, and it also allowed readers to make faster progress through the book. Many of the earliest books were written on papyrus, but animal skin provided a more durable surface. Most medieval manuscripts are written on either vellum or parchment. Vellum is literally the skin of a cow and parchment that of a sheep, but the two terms have come to be used interchangeably. The cleaned and prepared skins would be folded and cut to create folios, which had a front (recto) and back (verso). The scribes and artists responsible for producing the text and illumination would often divide up the work so that often one artist would be responsible for illuminated letters, another for blocking out the figures in the miniatures, a third for the addition of gold leaf, and so forth. Completed folios were folded into gatherings of a regular number of leaves and then sewn together bound and covered. Manuscripts were replaced by printed books, which were both cheaper and easier to produce, by the early 16th century.

Article.  15769 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.