By Chayna Truex
Illuminated Manuscripts are a type of book form that was used primarily during the middle ages. The word ‘manuscript’ was taken from the Latin term ‘manus scriptus’ which means ‘handwritten’. This term refers to the creation of illuminated manuscripts and the painstaking process of making these books by hand. Illuminated manuscripts date back to the 4th century the earliest being the Vergilius Augusteus which is only seven pages and many scholars believe it to be from a larger recreation of Virgil’s literature. The manor of creating illuminated manuscripts had changed significantly over the years. One can see the shift in its creation through the work of, the Ambrosian Iliad that dates back to the 5th century CE, an illuminated manuscript that details Homer’s work. Though technically this work is used to signify the shift to what many of us know as the medieval version of illuminated manuscripts; which use colors like gold, silver, and make use of bold lettering.
We know a great amount about the creation of illuminated manuscripts due to their popularity though very few have survived today. It was until the 13th century that illuminated manuscripts were primarily created by monks in a place called a scriptorium. Scriptoriums were rooms that were used strictly for the many processes of creating illuminated manuscripts such as the writing, copying, binding, and illuminating of these books. The creations of illuminated manuscripts was a huge group effort that could take from months to years to finish depending on the level of detail. The materials used in the creation of illuminated manuscripts is a bit different than what we would use in our modern books today. Illuminated manuscripts were written on animal skins until around 1450 BCE and were referred to as parchment or vellum. After the parchment was done it was then ruled or scored, so the scribe was able to write in straight lines. They then used lead based or colored ink and used a quill pen, taken from a goose or swan. The illumination was done by embellishing the drawings done by the quill, by painting over it with gold leaf. They would then use substances such as bole, which is a red clay, or sap to make the material stick. It was during this process that the illuminator would then mix pigments and add the rest of the colors to the drawing. The last process in creating the illuminated manuscript was the binding where they would fold together the parchment pages and sew them together using leather cords. They would then lace together supports taken from wood boards and cover the book in a leather binding.
Illuminated manuscripts are still a significant piece of book history and are still looked on today due to the amount of detail that was put into them. It is because of painstaking process in their creation that cause them to be studied by scholars today to understand the importance of art in the middle ages during a time before we had printing presses. It is easy for us to see today why these books were major symbols of art. “People often don’t realize that the greatest artists, the finest artists, of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance are illuminated manuscripts” (Samplers).
Mark, Joshua J. “Illuminated Manuscripts.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 13 Nov. 2018, www.ancient.eu/Illuminated_Manuscripts/.
Samplers, Dropcloth, et al. “How Illuminated Manuscripts Were Created During the Middle Ages.” My Modern Met, 10 Mar. 2018, mymodernmet.com/how-to-make-medieval-illuminated-manuscripts/.
Wight. “An Introduction to Illuminated Manuscripts by the British Library.” The British Library, The British Library, 25 Aug. 2005, www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/TourIntroGen.asp