From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"IT is only comparatively recently that the illustrated manuscripts have been considered worth a detailed examination from the standpoint of iconography and the history of art; the history of miniature painting has unfortunately hitherto been very inadequately treated, and many a problem still awaits solution." --Iconografia Dantesca (1897) by Ludwig Volkmann
An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration, such as decorated initials, borders (marginalia) and miniature illustrations. In the strictest definition of the term, an illuminated manuscript only refers to manuscripts decorated with gold or silver, but in both common usage and modern scholarship, the term is now used to refer to any decorated or illustrated manuscript from the Western traditions. Comparable Far Eastern works are always described as painted, as are Mesoamerican works. Islamic manuscripts are usually referred to as illuminated but can also be classified as painted.
The earliest surviving substantive illuminated manuscripts are from the period AD 400 to 600 (also in the gothic period), primarily produced in Ireland, Constantinople and Italy. The significance of these works lies not only in their inherent art history value, but in the maintenance of a link of literacy offered by non-illuminated texts as well. Had it not been for the monastic scribes of Late Antiquity, the entire literature of Greece and Rome would have perished; as it was, the patterns of textual survivals were shaped by their usefulness to the severely constricted literate group of Christians. The very existence of illuminated manuscripts as a way of giving stature and commemoration to ancient documents may have been largely responsible for their preservation in an era when barbarian hordes had overrun continental Europe and ruling classes were no longer literate.
The majority of surviving manuscripts are from the Middle Ages, although many illuminated manuscripts survive from the 15th century Renaissance, along with a very limited number from Late Antiquity. The majority of these manuscripts are of a religious nature. However, especially from the 13th century onward, an increasing number of secular texts were illuminated. Most illuminated manuscripts were created as codices, which had superseded scrolls; some isolated single sheets survive. A very few illuminated manuscript fragments survive on papyrus. Most medieval manuscripts, illuminated or not, were written on parchment (most commonly of calf, sheep, or goat skin), but most manuscripts important enough to illuminate were written on the best quality of parchment, called vellum, traditionally made of unsplit calf skin, though high quality parchment from other skins was also called parchment.
- Ancient literature
- Digital Scriptorium
- List of illuminated manuscripts
- Miniature (illuminated manuscript)
- Manuscript culture
- Historiated initial
- List of Hiberno-Saxon illustrated manuscripts
- Gospel Book
- English Apocalypse Manuscripts
- Armenian Illuminated manuscripts
- History of the book
- Medieval literature
- Preservation of Illuminated Manuscripts
- Book of Job in Byzantine illuminated manuscripts