|Initials by English Illuminators, 12th and 13th Century.|
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 that was most often heavily and richly illuminated, sometimes known as a "display book", varied between periods. In the first millennium, these were most likely to be Gospel Books. The Romanesque period saw the creation of many huge illuminated complete Bibles – one in Sweden requires three librarians to lift it. Many Psalters were also heavily illuminated in both this and the Gothic period. Single cards or posters of vellum, leather or paper were in wider circulation with short stories or legends on them about the lives of saints, chivalry knights or other mythological figures, even criminal, social or miraculous occurrences; popular events much freely used by story tellers and itinerant actors to support their plays. Finally, the Book of Hours, very commonly the personal devotional book of a wealthy layperson, was often richly illuminated in the Gothic period. Other books, both liturgical and not, continued to be illuminated at all periods. The Byzantine world also continued to produce manuscripts in its own style, versions of which spread to other Orthodox and Eastern Christian areas. See Medieval art for other regions, periods and types. Reusing parchments by scraping the surface and reusing them was a common practice; the traces often left behind of the original text are known as palimpsests.
The Muslim World and in particular the Iberian Peninsula, with their traditions of literacy uninterrupted by the Middle Ages, were instrumental in delivering ancient classic works to the growing intellectual circles and universities of Western Europe all through the 1100s, as 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 these beautiful artifacts, 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.
|Initial letters from French manuscript, 15 Century.|
Up to the twelfth 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.” The separation of these monks from the rest of the cloister indicates just how revered these monks were within their society.
By the fourteenth 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 the Monastic libraries were unable to meet with the demand, and began employing secular scribes and illuminators. These individuals often lived close to the monastery and, in certain 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.
First, the manuscript was “sent to the 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.” 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.”
|Practice coloring this large illuminated "M" from the 12th Century. Use a variety of ink pens, gel pens and metallic inks to decorate the narrow, delicate design work.|
- Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Digitized illuminated manuscripts from the Dutch Royal Library
- Museum of the Book, The Hague. Thematic introduction, with many examples illustrated
- Project from Cambridge University – colored numbers are links to good images from various collections; good for finding images of specific subjects quickly
- Illuminated Manuscripts in the J. Paul Getty Museum – Los Angeles
- Portal to manuscripts in French public collections huge databases, in French
- Illuminating the Manuscript Leaves Digitized illuminated manuscripts from the University of Louisville Libraries
-  Digitized illuminated manuscript from Kathrine Zipista
- Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, including lavishly decorated Books of Hours, Vulgates, and Medicinal Texts, 12 - 17th century, Center for Digital Initiatives, University of Vermont Libraries
- Illuminated Manuscripts digital collection from the Ball State University Digital Media Repository
- Digital Scriptorium
- British Library, catalogue of illuminated manuscripts
- Collection of illuminated manuscripts. From the Koninklijke Bibliotheek and Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum in The Hague.
- On-line demonstration of the production of an illuminated manuscript from the Fitzwilliam, Cambridge
- On-line demonstration of the production of an illuminated manuscript from the BNF, Paris. Text in French, but mostly visual.
- Nancy Ross, Resources for English Illuminated Manuscripts.
- British Library, Glossary of Manuscript Terms, adapted from Michelle Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms (1994), ISBN 0-89236-217-0
- Herbert, J. A. (1911), Illuminated Manuscripts, online book.
- Illuminated Manuscripts', Book by John W. Bradley, from Project Gutenberg
- CORSAIR. Thousands of digital images from the Morgan Library's renowned collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts
- "Illuminated Manuscripts". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- Diringer, David. The Book Before Printing: Ancient, Medieval and Oriental. New York: Dover Publications, Inc, 1982. Print.
- Lessons in the Art of Illuminating, by W. J. Loftie
- Greenia, George D. "The Politics of Piety: Manuscript Illumination and Narration in the Cantigas of De Santa Maria." Hispanic Review 61.3 (1993): 325–44. JSTOR. Web. 17 Apr. 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/475069>.