Indices : History : Illumination

Illumination is the art of decorating a manuscript with line drawings, colour and gilding. The art of illumination was revived in Victorian times through the encouragement of people such as Henry Shaw, who copied manuscripts held in the British Museum with the cooperation and support of Sir Frederic Madden, the Museum's Keeper of Manuscripts; William Morris and Edward Johnston.

Illuminated manuscripts of medieval times were almost always religious books. The texts were written in Uncial, Carolingian Minuscule and Humanistic scripts. The pages were vellum (finely scraped and stretched calf- or goatskin) and often beautifully bound with gold and gems set into the covers. The decorations helped the users of the books navigate through the pages in the absence of page numbers or running titles. Large illustrations (such as the Gospel pages in Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels) could be held up to show to an illiterate audience. Illumination also served glorify the word of God; possibly illumination may have "protected" the books from evil, with crosses and symbols serving as talismans.


  • de Hamel, Christopher. A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, 1986. ISBN-0-7148-2361-9
  • Jarman, Christopher. Illumination for Modern Calligraphers, 1988. ISBN-0-8230-2534-9
  • Johnston, Edward. Writing & Illuminating, and Lettering, 1906.
  • Shaw, Henry. Illuminated Ornaments Selected from Manuscripts of the Middle Ages, 1833.
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