In the Middle Ages all books were hand-written original works of art. These “illuminated” manuscripts were so called because of their frequent incorporation of gold or sometimes silver leaf onto the page. Illumination comes from the Latin word illuminare, meaning “light up,” and when one sees one of these brilliant manuscripts in person, the term makes sense.

The earliest surviving illuminated manuscripts date from the 5th century, though it was not until about 1100 that the production of manuscripts began to flourish in earnest. This “golden age” of manuscript illumination lasted until the arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press in 1450-55, signaling the beginning of the end of hand-made illuminated manuscripts.

Medieval historyDuring the early Middle Ages most books were used by priests and monks for liturgical purposes. New books appeared most often when a new monastery was founded. Books began to be produced for individuals as well as religious institutions as early as the 12th century. The movement of books into the secular world encouraged the increase of lay workshops run by professional scribes.

Most illuminators were humble craftsmen who set up shop. Some were independent, itinerant artists who traveled from place to place looking for commissions. The best held the rank of court artists at the exclusive service of a wealthy patron.

Illuminators usually belonged either to the painter’s guild or another guild involved in the book trade. Most illuminators remained anonymous until the late Middle Ages. With the gradual rise in status from artisan to artist, more illuminators in the late Middle Ages began to sign their work, and often also included a small pictorial representation of themselves somewhere in the work.

The whole process of book illumination was very time-consuming and costly, thus the illuminated manuscript was a luxury item for wealthy customers. With the advent of book printing, the sumptuous illuminated codices went out of fashion. Although the early printed books were often made to resemble illuminated manuscripts, by way of hand coloring, the art of book illumination gradually disappeared in the course of the sixteenth century.




Home | Services | Samples | Contact
History | Technique | Parchment | Text | Gilding | Illustration | Sources



Material may not be reprinted without express permission.
All rights reserved.

Romance site: Romantic Love Stories  
Home History Parchment Calligraphy Gilding Illustration Sources Services Samples Contact