Article

Anglo-Saxon Manuscript Illumination

Catherine E. Karkov

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online June 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0113
Anglo-Saxon Manuscript Illumination

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

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“Anglo-Saxon manuscript illumination” refers to those manuscripts produced in the area that is now England, or by Anglo-Saxon scribes and illuminators working elsewhere, between the period c. 600 ce to c. 1100 ce. There is some overlap during the earlier centuries with Insular illuminated manuscripts, manuscripts produced in Ireland and the British Isles between roughly the years 600 and 850, and early Northumbrian manuscripts such as the Lindisfarne Gospels (London, British Library, Cotton Nero D.IV), which can be classed either as Anglo-Saxon or Insular. Anglo-Saxon manuscript illumination can consist simply of decorated initials or interlinear and marginal pen flourishes, but it also includes elaborately decorated manuscripts filled with golden letters and full-page figural or narrative miniatures. It is not limited just to religious manuscripts (though most of the most luxuriously decorated manuscripts are religious); medical and “scientific” manuscripts, histories and hagiographies, charters and legal manuscripts, poetic texts, and calendars were also illuminated. In general, Anglo-Saxon illumination is characterized by a love of expressive line (line drawing is a major art form), color wash, and a creative use of the relationship between center and margin, or what is within and what is beyond the central framed image or text block. The Anglo-Saxons are also credited with inventing several types of image: the historiated initial (an initial containing an abbreviated narrative or image related to the text that follows), the “disappearing Christ” (a type of Ascension in which only Christ’s legs remain visible within the picture frame), and the Coronation of the Virgin (in the earliest examples of which the Virgin receives a crown on her death bed). Historiated initials appear in some of the earliest Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, but the more complex iconographic innovations of the biblical narrative scenes are associated with the 10th-century Benedictine reform centered on Winchester and Canterbury. In almost all manuscripts, whatever their date or provenance, illumination and text work very closely together, and one should never be studied in isolation from the other.

Article.  14175 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

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