What is an illuminated manuscript
We call illuminations the ornaments present in books and manuscripts made using drawing, painting, and the application of metallic foil.
So what is an illuminated manuscript – a book in which the letters are hand-drawn and containing images that illustrate the text, made with the technique of illumination.
These ornaments often focused on the initial letters decorated with religious symbols and were, in medieval times, executed mainly by monks.
The texts had a drawn letter that was inserted at the beginning (capitular letter or initial).
They were so well drawn and full of details that they were true works of art, and they told stories themselves.
What is an illuminated manuscript – the themes in Middle Ages
The favorite themes covered biblical scenes, the steps of Christ’s passion, episodes from the lives of the saints, and mythological scenes.
Some very rich copies of illuminated books have come down to us, but unfortunately many others have been lost over time.
What is an illuminated manuscript – Get to know some examples of famous illuminated manuscripts.
What is an illuminated manuscript – not only in the European Middle Ages
The term illumination is generally used to designate the entire pictorial set of decorative or illustrative character that accompanied the texts of codices and manuscript books in the medieval period.
But if we want to know what is an illuminated manuscript we have to go further.
The application of the designation has been gradually extended, chronologically and geographically, to encompass much more varied artistic manifestations.
We have as an example the illuminations originating from Egypt and the Muslim and Hindu world.
What is an illumineted manuscript – the most famous portuguese example
In Portugal, the most important illuminated manuscript that has reached our days is the Apocalypse of Lorvão.
Dating from 1189, it was probably made in the Monastery of Lorvão, near Coimbra.
It is currently in Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, in Lisbon, and was considered Memory of the World by UNESCO.
Apocalypse of Lorvão (the four knights of the Apocalypse)
What is an illuminated manuscript – the history
The oldest testimonies of illumination date back to Ancient Egypt, as mentioned above.
In this civilization, illustrations were made on papyrus rolls, accompanying hieroglyphic texts, as is the case of the “Book of the Dead“, executed for important characters in society ( sovereigns, aristocrats, priests, etc.).
Section from the Book of the Dead by the scribe Nebqed, circa 1300 BC.
The Hellenistic period
The tradition of illumination continued during the Hellenistic period in one of the most active centers of the Mediterranean world, the Library of Alexandria.
Christianity and Middle Ages
During the early days of Christianity, many books were made but few copies have survived to this day, with the exception of a few Bibles from the 6th century.
Later, between the 7th and 9th centuries, this artistic form had great development in isolated Irish and English monasteries, which later transmitted it to the rest of Europe.
From the 10th century on, the attempt to integrate texts with images was accentuated.
With the adoption of very diversified and more complex compositional schemes.
Besides the narrative images, ornamental elements were frequently used.
In the form of frames or friezes, of abstract-geometric or vegetalist character, which articulated the illustrations with the text.
During the Gothic
In the Gothic era, the production of illuminations expanded greatly, leaving the restricted environment of monastery scriptoriums.
In some important cities, into an autonomous profession organized into guilds.
At this time, manuscript books, both religious and profane, were executed on commission from wealthy families, from the nobility, or from kings themselves.
After the 15th century
The production of illuminated manuscripts went into decline after the invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century.
Only a few copies were made on commission by patrons, usually in Italy and Flanders, in the Renaissance style.
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Graduated in History – Art History from the Universidade Nova of Lisbon. Post-Graduate in Management and Promotion of Heritage by the UAL. Specialised in Management of Cultural Projects. Various training courses and a specialisation course regarding Promoting Heritage, Conservation & Restoration, Museum studies and Vocational Training. Coordinator in multiple projects linked to Historical and Artistic Heritage, educational and vocational training projects in various entities. Author of several publications and communications. Creator and coordinator of the development of virtual content of the project: History | Art | Culture.