Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Report


Throughout the course of this report I will be presenting the findings of my research on Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts.  I will be expanding on the information that I have presented in my blog, Sam’s Illuminated Manuscripts.  During my research I focused on the questions I listed in my first blog post, titled: “Research Brief”, all of these have been addressed and will be answered in the following report.  Throughout this report I have inserted a series (broken into three parts), from the BBC about illuminated manuscripts, it was created for a exhibition held at Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, but it goes through the history of illuminated manuscripts, as I have below.


Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts were an art that was highly popular in the Middle Ages.  Initially the domain of religious groups, the art became popular with lay people, and artisans began appearing.  The manuscripts took on many forms, beginning with Bible and other Liturgical books, moving eventually into books for specialist and literature.  Many well-known codex still survive today, either in parts or whole.  The process is quite long and difficult, and generally completed by more than one person.  Throughout the centuries, many events have effected the survival of many books, from wars, to fires and theft.  But none as much as a certain invention.


What, when, where & why?

Book illumination is the art of embellishing books with painted pictures, ornamental letters and other intricate designs and decorations.  For a codex or picture to be truly illuminated, it must include gold or silver foil and bright colours.  The art of decorating documents can be traced back to the Egyptians in the 20th century BC, but, illuminated manuscripts originated in the early Middle Ages, around the 6th century, in the Western Roman Empire.  They were at their peak from 11th century to the mid-15th century.

Illuminated manuscripts also were produced in other parts of Europe and in parts of the Arabic world.  Generally illuminated manuscripts were of a religious nature, for use during ceremonies etc, and contained decorations and miniatures of religious scenes.  However, Eastern and Islamic illuminated manuscripts did not.  Islam forbids idolatry, and therefore illuminated manuscripts generally contained only ornamental page decorations, or non religious images.

I believe the true purpose of illuminated manuscripts was the same for any book: simply, to preserve the written word.  The high levels of decoration simply served to enhance the esteem in which they were/are held.  The monetary value of the books ensured that they were protected and preserved for as long as can be.  The purpose of each individual book varied, for the most part manuscripts were used for religious purposes, i.e. liturgical book, prayer books and Holy Scriptures (bibles), but there were a portion of books produced that were for secular use, i.e. chronicles, books for specialists etc.


Types of illuminated manuscripts


These are complete versions of the Old and New Testaments.

Liturgical books

Elements taken from full version of the bible, and used by the clergy during different types of services, including: Psalters, Evangeliary, Evangelistary, Sacramentary and Missals, Temporal, Breviary, Gradual and antiphony, Books of Hours, Apocalypses.

Books for specialists

There were less important religious books, some of these were: homiliares (collections of sermons); martyrologies’ (reports of martyrs); collections of legends and others.  There were also many secular books, some topics were: astronomical works; medical knowledge; art of warfare; architecture; plants; zoological, there were even collections put together as encyclopaedia.

Narrative literature, history and travel

Stories such as the Fall of Troy or King Arthur and his knights, these are generally written as allegories.  We can also include some other types of texts, such as: law documents; text books etc.


Society, production & patrons

The type of book determined the role its played in society.  Early on manuscripts were for the exclusive use of religious communities, both for private devotions and for use during services.  Around the 12th century orders for books were coming from individuals, for private use and collection.  And the use of manuscripts changed, from use just for devotions to use for self-education.  Still generally of religious nature in the beginning, changing to books for specialists or literature and history; books for scholarly use.  The rise of universities in the 13th century, prompted this change.

In the early Middle Ages, manuscripts were produced in Monasteries, by Monks, in rooms set aside for this purpose, called scriptorium's.  As illuminated manuscripts penetrated into secular parts of society, there was a rise in lay craftsman.  Who opened their own workshops and worked as professional artists, producing illuminated manuscripts for profit.  At times these craftsman were even called to monasteries, to complete works.  The production of one illuminated manuscript was usually completed by more than one artist, these could be: the parchment maker; the scribe; the miniaturist/illuminator; and the book-binder.  Occasionally one person would produce an entire codex.  These lay craftsman formed guilds; i.e. The Guild of Painters, or various others belonging to the book trades.  Some of these artists produced both miniatures for manuscripts, and larger scale paintings.  Until, around the late Medieval period, illuminators and other artists generally remained anonymous.  Then as the status of the artisans began to rise, we began to see signed works.

When illuminated manuscripts were produced in the beginning, only people of highest secular and ecclesiastical rank possessed them.  By the late Middle Ages, illuminated manuscripts were appreciated for their aesthetics as well as their contents, and collections began appearing for this reason, they were added to treasuries along with other art items.  It was these collectors who ensured the survival of many ancient illuminated manuscripts.  They were kept safe, restored and repaired when necessary, and later bequeathed to libraries of monasteries, and eventually even universities. 

Important, significant or well-known illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages

5th Century - Ambrosian Iliad - The Iliad is an epic poem written by Homer in the 7th or 8th century BC, about the Trojan War.  This is the oldest surviving illuminated manuscripts, although most of it's pictures were cut out and pasted onto sheets of vellum, meaning that much of the text was lost.

6th Century - St Augustine's Gospels - A book of gospels sent to Cambridge for use by St Augustine.  Although it is missing some pages and miniatures, it is still in use today, particularly for the swearing of the oath for the enthronement of the new Bishops of Canterbury.  The Gospels is the oldest surviving Latin illustrated gospel book.

7th century - The Naples Dioscorides - a Greek herbal, it contains descriptions of plants and their medicinal uses, the text is arranged alphabetically.  This codex was stolen from Naples in 1718, and finally returned after the conclusion of WW1, in 1919.

8th Century - Book of Kells - c.a. 800 or earlier.  A gospel book in Latin.  It is thought to be Ireland's best national treasure, an insular book that is more extravagant and complex than many others.

9th Century - Book of Nunnaminster -   an Anglo-Saxon prayer book.  It contains the passion narratives of the four gospels, and a collection of prayers.

10th Century - Gospels of Otto III - an evangeliary that is may be the most valuable book in the world, with gold binding set with jewels and ivory panel.  It was made for the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III.

11th Century - Bambery Apocalypse - contains the Book of Revelation of St John and a Gospel Lectionary.  Another one belonging to the Ottonian book design.

12th Century - Winchester Bible - an ornate bible, used for readings at mealtimes.

13th Century - al-Jazari: Kitab fi Ma'rifat al-Hijal al-Handasiysa - "The Book of Machines".  The function and methods of construction of various mechanical devises, i.e. the water clock.

14th Century - The Golden Haggadah - texts that contain prayers and readings to accompany the Passover 'seder', mainly dealing with the Israelites exodus from Egypt.

15th Century - The Hours of Catherine of Cleaves - contains prayers for private use during daily devotions.  It is one of the most lavishly illustrated manuscripts of the 15th century, created c.a. 1430, at the time of the marriage of Catherine and Arnold, the Duke of Guilders.


Process of illumination, production of manuscripts

When producing manuscripts there were fairly rigid steps to the process:
  1. The parchment is produced and prepared.
  2. The text was written first, with space or spaces left for decoration.
  3. Process of decoration/illumination:
    1. drawing of the design,
    2. transferring the design to the parchment, via pricking or tracing,
    3. application and polishing/burnishing of the gilt,
    4. application of the colours,
    5. black outlines and white highlights added.
  4. Binding:
    1. pages gathered, and stitched together,
    2. gatherings laced onto wood boards, (the covers of the book),
    3. the boards then covered with leather,
    4. a clasp was added to keep the pages flat,
  5. The manuscript could then be decorated, with: leather (tooled or stamped); velvets or silks; sculptured decoration made with precious metals or jewels. 

Events that effected illuminated manuscripts

Many collections were decimated or completely destroyed in the course of wars, or fires.  An example of accidental destruction by fire was during the Great Fire of London.  In 1666, 80% of greater London was destroyed, including: 87 parish churches, St Paul's Cathedral and 44 company halls, all of which may have had significant collections.  The losses from events such as this, could be devastating.

But of course, there is also the deliberate and malicious destruction of books too.  This has happened many times over the centuries, either because the content was considered blasphemous, by one religion of another, or because one culture wished to silence, censor, control or even destroy another culture.  Some examples of this are:
  • during the Reformation, Roman Catholic manuscripts were destroyed,
  • all libraries in Baghdad were destroyed during a Mongol invasion in 1258, luckily about 400,000 manuscripts were rescued and moved to Iran before the siege.
  • probably one of the major acts of destruction we think of in modern times were book burnings by the Nazis during WWII, anything that was un-German was destroyed.
Theft is another way illuminated manuscripts have been lost or destroyed throughout history.  They are very valuable and highly prized for both their actual and intrinsic value.  Some examples of theft are:
  • the Vikings took the manuscripts of the Irish monasteries in the 9th and 10th centuries, during invasions, the covers of many had been made with solid metals.
  • even in modern times, when a American University professor, having been granted special access, used scissors and a razor to steal dozens of pages from illuminated manuscripts, stored at the Vatican Apostolic Library in Rome.

A feature of many illuminated manuscripts produced in Medieval Times, were curses threatening damnation for thieves who dared to steal them.  A great threat, obviously.

The end for illuminated manuscripts
With the west's movement into the Orient came new cheaper materials, paper and inks.  The plague also had an impact on production, it killed many of the artisans skilled in this art, especially in monasteries, where Monks lived in very cramped, close communities.

But, simply, it was the invention of the Gutenberg Printing Press, in c.a. 1452.  Books could be mass produced and information was able to be spread quickly, and accurately.  Creating a great need for knowledge and information, the form it took didn't need to be beautiful, just cheap and accessible.  The invention of the printing press also affected many other parts of society, i.e.: the break-up of Europe's unity during the Reformation; the up-rising of the peasant classes, with access to accurate information that could be spread quickly and widely, leading to a more literate society.  Science was the greatest recipient of this technology, advancements were able to occur much more rapidly, with the rapid spread of accurate information and knowledge.  But, all those are for another time, what concerns us is that the printing press took books and the production of books, out of the hands of the highest classes control and placed it into the hands of the lower classes.  And, unfortunately, bringing about the beginning of the end of a beautiful craft.  Production still continued past this time, but it was much slower and considerable less codex were produced.


What I discovered during my reading, was that Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts were for the top classes of society, mostly for religious purposes.  That is, until other parts of high society began collecting and ordering manuscripts of their own.  Production was initially the domain of religious groups, until it began to be profitable, and then lay craftsman became involved. Production was a delicate, expensive and time-consuming process, which was reflected in the cost of manuscripts.  Like all valuable artefact's, manuscripts were the target of many who wished to either possess them, or destroy them.  After all my research I now think of the Middle Ages, as the Golden Age of the Book.  In no other time in history were they so beautiful, and probably so highly prized, because of their value.  Production grew and grew, they became more intricate and more decorated, until something cheaper and easier to produce came along, how many times have we heard that story?  But without the invention of the Gutenberg Printing Press, society wouldn't be what it is today, and even though I might hanker after such beautiful art to read, I enjoy what we have now.

Link to my complete Bibliographical page.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Blogpost 6

Well, I've finally come to the end of the research part of this task, it's been very interesting, and fascinating.  But, I have enjoyed it, although at times I've struggled with different parts.  In the beginning it was hard finding a range of sources I was hoping to, I like to have a significant number of sources so I can check facts and information.  Particularly when using the Internet, as we all know, anyone can put information up there, but it's not always authoritative, but sometimes it's a good place to start, small crumbs can be turned into whole slices and they can be turned into whole loaves of reliable information.  Hopefully, I've achieved this satisfactorily.  I've found this week that I left some of the easiest questions to answer: the process of illumination, and what happened to halt the production of illuminated manuscripts.  I'd already begun to consider the process question, through my Youtube videos that I've been uploading, but also, artists are still out there re-creating this art and sharing the knowledge.    The event that mainly halted the production of illuminated manuscripts wasn't difficult to discover either, all the sites I have been using as my sources finish off with this, whilst not completely the end of illuminated manuscripts, it was still a defining time for this art.  I did find a couple of new sources for this part of my research.  The video I've including in this week's post is one that shows the production of a manuscript from start, (the making of the parchment), to the end, (the bound codex).


The process of illumination is a very long process, however, it is essentially only a few steps.  These are:
Polishing Gold Leaf
  1. The copying of the design onto the parchment, there are different methods I found, they could be pricking or drawing with light inks.
  2. The gilt, either gold or silver, is applied next.  The reason this is done first is that it could adhere to the coloured inks used for colouring the image.  The metal is fixed to the parchment with either gesso, or gum.  It is then polished with agate.
  3. The colours were then added.
  4. Finally the outlines were painted over with black and white highlights were added to the image. 
There were other steps involved in the entire production of an illuminated manuscript, but I have not listed them in this post, I will cover them in my final report.

Gutenberg Printing Press

So, the end to this topic is, what happened to halt the production of illuminated manuscripts?  A few things led to this end, the Black Death contributed, many monks were killed by this disease, the West's movement into the East, and discovering their cheaper paper and inks.  But, mostly, it was the invention of the printing press, specifically the Gutenberg Printing press.  There had been others since approximately the 13th century, but they were not efficient enough.  Johannes Gutenberg "created a durable and interchangeable metal type that allowed him to print many different pages, using the same letters over and over again in different combinations", Chris Butler (2007).  This allowed for the dissemination of information in a method that was quick and accurate, therefore creating a need for knowledge and information that didn't need to be beautiful, just cheap and readily accessible.  Invention of the printing press didn't stop production of illuminated manuscripts completely, they were still produced in the following centuries, but considerably less codex were produced.


Link to my complete Bibliographical page. 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Blogpost 5

Temple of Artemis and Book Burning at Ephesus
In this second last week of research, I have been looking at what has happened to illuminated manuscripts over the years, i.e. how they might have been destroyed or lost.  The loss of many illuminated manuscripts can be put down to wars, either from deliberate destruction from invading forces and then subsequent fires etc.  Or even to deliberate destruction by the invaders in order to control the invaded peoples, or destruction because beliefs differed.  Another way, is accidental damage in fires, for example the Great Fire of London in 1666 80% of the city was destroyed, including 87 parish churches, 44 company halls and even St Pauls Cathedral, the real figure for loss of illuminated manuscripts may not be known, but you could imagine what it could be.  Of course, theft is always a major problem for valuable and beautiful items.  Over the centuries many thousands of whole books were stolen, to increase the collections of invading forces.  Theft continues into modern times, where most often books have parts stolen, especially the very precious illuminations themselves, either as images or whole pages.

Book of Kells, Christ enthroned
I have also been compiling a list of known illuminated manuscripts, trying to pick one from each century, from 5th century, up to the 15th century.  These are: the 'Ambrosian Iliad' from the 5th century; 'St Augustine's Gospels' from the 6th century; the 'Naples Dioscorides' from the 7th century; the 'Book of Kells' in the 8th century; the 'Book of Nunnaminster' of the 9th century; the 'Gospels of Otto III" from the 10th century; 'Bamberg Apocalypse' from the 11th century; the 'Winchester Bible' of the 12th century; the Ashmole 'Bestiary' from the 13th century; 'The Golden Haggadah' of the 14th century and 'The Hours of Catherine of Cleves' from the 15th century.

My processes this week have taken a really long time, especially in compiling my list of known illuminated manuscripts, I mainly used the Masterpieces of Illumination book, which has the sub-heading of: "the world's most beautiful illuminated manuscripts from 400 to 1600", almost exactly what I was looking for.  But another useful source was Wikipedia's List of Illuminated Manuscripts, which listed hundreds for me to look at.  Unfortunately, because of Wikipedia's reputation of not always being accurate, I preferred to use this as a base to jump from, and find more reputable sources for more information, or at least to try to confirm what I was reading on the Wiki.  This was difficult, because not all the sources I have been using have information on all the Illuminated Manuscripts, so there was a lot of searching, and toing and froing between sites and books.  But I finally got there.  Another web source I have found most useful was The History of Information.  My picture this week include a drawing of book burning at an Ancient Greek city, Ephesus, a page from the Book of Kells, one of my known illuminated manuscripts and what I think is a very beautiful and detailed illumination, and my two instalments from the series: Medieval Manuscript Reproduction, 5b being the final one.




Link to my complete Bibliographical page. 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Blogpost 4

This week I have moved onto the questions of what role illuminated manuscripts played in society, who produced them.  I've added another question to my list after doing some more research, and that is Who were the patrons of this art, i.e. who was ordering the making of these manuscripts and possessing them?  My processes have still mostly been reading through the sources I have previously found, especially the book: "Masterpieces of Illumination", this book is written in easy to understand language, with headings that make it easy to find the information I'm after.  I have also found one new source, the headings and information make it feel like it was written just for this project, I found the link for this source in one of the others I found in the first couple of weeks.

I think at this stage of the project, finding new information on a large scale is not necessary, four weeks in it should be a matter of reading, reading and more reading, with searching for new sources to be limited to use for validating some questions that come along.  The videos I am embedding in my blog have also been pre-planned now, so unless I find something new and fantastic, I know what I will be showing there.  I am trying to find new and interesting images each week, something that is relevant to the parts of the report I am answering.  Below is the fourth part of the series on Manuscript reproduction.  An image from the Arthurian Romances, a page from a manuscript about the mythical tales of King Arthur and Camelot, an example of a secular manuscript.  And finally another example of another ecclesiastical illumination, from a bible in the early 15th century.


Page from the Arthurian Romances.
The role each manuscript in society was determined by it's type and intended use, especially in the beginning.  Manuscripts were initially produced by and for the religious community, for use in private devotions and also for use during services.  Around the 12th century, this started to change, orders for these manuscripts were coming from individuals, still mostly for use during devotions, but also to use for self-education.  Sometimes these wealthy 'donors' would request their own image be included in the donor miniature, they would often appear as a tiny figure somewhere.  Eventually, in the 13th century, we start to see the production of manuscripts for other uses; i.e. books for specialists (law, medicine etc), literature and even history, these manuscripts are intended for scholarly use, especially with the rise of universities.

In the early Middle Ages, manuscripts were produced in monasteries, by monks, in rooms called scriptorium's.  As illuminated manuscripts penetrated into the secular parts of society, this saw the rise of lay craftsman.  These craftsman opened their own workshops and worked as professional artists, producing manuscripts for profit.  At times these craftsman were even called into monasteries to complete works for the monks.

Early 15th century illumination from a Bible.


Link to my complete Bibliographical page. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Blogpost 3

My progress to date has now included the answer to where else they occurred and how they differed from Western Europe, what the purpose of them was and finally what forms they take.  A brief summary of this is that they also were produced in Islamic parts of the world and the biggest difference of course was that they were not for a Christian purpose.  There was some major differences between Christian and non-Christian products, and this was the decoration, pictorial images were prohibited in Eastern Art, whereas  Western Art teemed with religious scenes of Jesus, Mary, Saints etc.  I think the purpose of books is the same then, as it is now, and that is simply to preserve the written word.  The forms/types were many and varied (I will list these here but will save a full explanation for my final report): Bibles; Liturgical books; Books for specialists; and Narrative literature, history and travel books.  I’ve been really immersing myself in this topic; every time I sit down I am transported away and find it hard to come back down.

So, I have decided to stop trying to search for new sources of information at the moment, this probably is a weakness I need to work on, sometimes I go too far instead of using what I have initially, and then going back later if necessary.  I haven’t found any new sources, I’m using the ones I had found up till last week, but I’m really getting into them.  The only new searches I am doing are for additional bits to add to my Blog, i.e. Youtube videos and more images.  I was really surprised at the results I found when I searched, “Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts” on Youtube.  There are many people out there who are reproducing these works, and they’ve been so great to record and share them.  This search alone had me captured for a day, going through and finding the best ones.  I’ve returned to my two earlier posts and added the first two in a series I found on the process of illumination, the third parts (a &b) are here: 




Link to my complete Bibliographical page. 

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Blogpost 2

So far I have addressed the questions of what an illuminated manuscript is, and when and where did they originate.  The question of where they originated has been quite difficult for me to pin down exactly, but I have found that the real illuminated manuscripts originates in the early Middle Ages approximately the 6th century, in Western Europe.  The illumination of books or manuscripts was at it's peak between about 1066 and 1485.  But the process was being used in many other areas, and the idea of beautifying documents with decoration could be traced back to the 20th century BC with the Egyptians decorating funeral rolls.  However, to be considered a true illuminated manuscript, the decoration must contain both colour and silver or gold foil.

I thought this image was a good example of illumination,
 it has bright colours, but most importantly gold foil.

My process of detection this last week has been quite stilted.  I am not finding information from the range of sources I anticipated I would be able to.  The books I borrowed from my local library have been my main source to date.  In terms of Internet searching, so far, I have been using the search terms ‘medieval illuminated manuscripts’ and this has not been giving me much information on these items.  I have search through the following sources; Swinburne Library databases; State Library of Victoria databases; National Library of Australia databases; I have used Google Scholar; and Google – ‘I feel lucky’, I have tried an on line encyclopedia also.  I changed my search string slightly using Google suggestions and searched ‘medieval illuminated manuscripts information’, and have found a couple of websites I want to investigate further.  Some of these were: The Centre for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University; The Warburg Institute of the University of London and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I will continue to investigate different search terms to gather more information, I don't think I am being broad enough to be able to gather a broad amount of information.  I've added part two of the series of Youtube videos:



Link to my complete Bibliographical page. 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Research Brief

The topic of my "History of Libraries, Books and Communication" Research Project will be Illuminated Manuscripts, I will be focusing on the Medieval Period, but within my research I will probably stray slightly into other eras where necessary.  I spent hours this morning searching the huge list provided by the lecturer, and so many appealed to me it was very difficult to narrow it down.  So I did a little bit of searching on several topics that caught my eye, until I found the subject I could not stop reading about.  When I realised I wanted to read more and more on this subject I decided that would be the one for me.

Throughout my Research Project I will be focusing on the cultural importance of, history of and the process of illuminated manuscripts, I hope to answer the following questions with my research:
1.       What is an illuminated manuscript?
2.       From where did they originate?
3.       Where else in the world did they occur? How did they differ?
4.       What was the purpose of an illuminated manuscript?
5.       What forms did they take?
6.       What roles did illuminated manuscripts play in society?
7.       Who produced illuminated manuscripts?
8.       What is the process of illumination?
9.       What happened to illuminated manuscripts over the intervening years?  Did any survive the many wars that have occurred?
10.   What were some of the most important or significant ones?
11.   What occurred to halt the production of illuminated manuscripts?

I will employ the following strategies to find information: I will search the Swinburne Library Databases for articles; I will search my local library for books and articles; and I will use the internet to search for reputable and relevant websites, for information, photographs and pictures.  I will have to search and read through information on the Medieval Period in general, as well as searching the Illuminated Manuscripts, to get a broad amount of information.  I am really looking for to finding out as much as possible on this topic, and sharing it with everyone.  The historical information will be very interesting, but so will the cultural context of Illuminated Manuscripts.  I will be keeping a six week online blog about my processes and progress.

This image is an example of an illustration from an Illuminated Manuscript: