| The History of the Illuminated Manuscript
In the first century AD, the hand-written book or manuscript appeared in the codex form - that is, in the shape of the book as we know it. Before this, books were made in roll form, usually from papyrus, a plant which grew plentifully in Egypt.
The pages, or folios, of the codex were made out of treated animal skins - calf, sheep or goat skins - called parchment or vellum. This material was more durable than papyrus and the codex itself was easier to handle. The spread of Christianity helped to popularise the codex and, by the fourth century, it had largely replaced the roll
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History of Illuminated manuscripts
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Text and Decoration
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Illuminated Liturgical Books, Bibles and Translations
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Gospel Texts and Images in personal Prayer Books
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| Text and Decoration
The relationship between text and decoration is demonstrated in this exhibition; and you can see how the basic principles of manuscript illumination remained constant from the twelfth century until the final phase of manuscript production in the sixteenth century. A number of the more common details are defined as follows:
| Illuminated Liturgical Books, Bibles
There existed an essential connection between manuscript
painting and the meaning of the text itself. Several manuscripts have
been selected with specific reference to the varied expression throughout
the centuries of the intent and meaning of the Gospels, of which the
Book of Kells is such a striking example.Theses illuminated manuscripts
fall into two main categories:
| Gospel Texts and Images in personal
Gospel texts were used and illuminated in liturgical books, and influenced the illustration of Old Testament texts, such as the Psalms or the Book of Genesis. Psalter-hours and books of hours - the personal prayer books of the noble, wealthy and educated - are amongst the most richly illuminated books of the late Middle Ages. Many of their illustrations are based on events in the Gospels, which include the Virgin Mary and highlight the humanity of Christ. The scenes are represented in contemporary terms and the viewer is invited be part of them. Images based on legends about Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints are also plentiful in these books. These depictions often show the interaction of the Gospels with popular culture.
| The psalter-hours contains the psalms
and the Hours of the Virgin, as well as other excerpts from the breviary.
The book of hours, which in the later fourteenth century largely replaced the psalter-hours, generally contains a calendar, short offices - especially the Hours of the Virgin - other prayers from the breviary, and extracts from the four Gospels. A selection of more personal prayers often reflects the individual interests of the owner of the prayer book. These illuminated manuscripts demonstrate the illustration of the Gospel and related Christian themes in personal prayer books from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries.
You can navigate through to the various manuscripts by clicking on the map to the right.
To return to this map click on the small map that will appear in the top left corner.
The manuscripts for The Book of Kells and the Art of Illumination have been geographically categorised by either where they were made or where they were commissioned.
Gospel books - which contain accounts of the life of Christ written by the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - are amongst the most ancient illuminated Christian texts in existence. These books were made for use in the Mass, as was the Book of Kells.
Other books containing Gospel texts were also richly illuminated: they include missals, breviaries and choir books. Missals contain all the texts for the celebration of the Mass - which commemorates the life, death and Resurrection of Christ. Breviaries contain the texts for the public prayer of the Church or the Divine Office.
| Choir books contain the chants and music
for the settings of the Mass (graduals) and Divine Office (antiphonals)
throughout the year.
The psalms of the Old Testament were used in the recitation of the Divine Office and for personal prayer. They were often introduced by, or illustrated with, scenes from the life of Christ.
In iIlluminated bibles, illustrations accompanying books of the Old Testament could also be influenced by the Gospel texts and Christian doctrine.
Space left at the end of a line was often filled in with decorative elements. These line-endings tended to comprise the same decorative vocabulary as the letters.
Decorative borders that project from the initials into the margins are a thirteenth-century innovation. Borders could be sinewy extensions of the decoration of the initial, or panels filled with foliate, floral and other designs. Sometimes, especially in the Gothic period, borders and margins contained humorous comments, or references to the owner of the book. They might, or might not relate to the main text.
Miniatures were independent illustrations in manuscripts - the term derives from the red pigment 'minium', and does not in this context refer to size. Miniatures were related to the text not only through their subject matter but also by the way in which they were integrated into the layout of the page. Visual links were deliberately made between the elements of script, decoration and illustration.
| Manuscripts were usually written in
a carefully formed script, with the text set out on ruled lines, framed
by the plain parchment of the margins. At an early period some texts came
to be illustrated and ornamented. Scribes used coloured inks, particularly
red, for headings and titles. Independent illustrations appear from the
fourth century, in texts of classical authors such as Homer and Vergil.
Illumination originally referred to the use of rich colours and precious metals which were seen to light up the page. Today the term 'illumination' is used for all decoration and painting in manuscripts.
In the great Gospel books produced in Ireland and
Britain from the seventh to the ninth centuries, the initials and letters
of the script became the major focus for ornamentation. The Book of
Kells is a splendid example of this.
|The illuminated manuscripts from Australian and New Zealand collections on display in the first two rooms of this exhibition date from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. As well as documenting the history of book illumination, they reflect the stylistic developments and the changes in representation that took place in art in the course of the medieval and Renaissance periods. In particular, they demonstrate the increasing interest in naturalistic elements and in realistic depictions of space.|