My 10 Favorite European Illuminated Manuscript Inspirations

For your viewing pleasure, I give you my 10 most artistically inspiring illuminated manuscripts. Not all are lavish, but all encourage my creativity. I hope they do yours too. 

  • Book of Kells created c. 800, is a calligraphy masterwork and pinnacle of Insular illumination. Regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure, its extravagance and decoration complexity combines traditional Christian motifs with ornate swirling patterns. Humans, animals and mythical beasts, knotwork and interlacing patterns in vibrant colors abound.  At least three different scribes wrote its supple Insular majuscule script. 
  • The Hours of Catherine of Cleves is the greatest Dutch illuminated manuscript. Its 157 miniatures are by a gifted master, active around 1435-1460, now known only as the Master of Catherine of Cleves. He is considered medieval northern Netherlands finest, most original illuminator. The everyday objects he displayed on the pages’ borders are in a style ahead of its time. And no two are alike.

  • The magnificent Lindisfarne Gospels was written and illuminated in the late 7th century by the monk Eadfrith. It combines richly coloredMediterranean, Anglo-Saxon, and Celtic motifs with text written in Insular script. It is the best documented, most complete Insular manuscript.
  • The Luttrell Psalter is online as a virtual book at the British Library. I’ve googled images here. Commissioned by a wealthy landowner in the first half of the 14th century, it is painted in rich colors with gold and silver. Its vitality and borders entwined with bizarre fanciful drolleries make it wondrously humorous and unique. The book is an image trove if you are interested in everyday English life. 
  • The Maciejowki Bible is a 45 folio medieval picture Bible illuminated in France’s northern counties around 1250. Its unique history caused it to have paintings of Hebrew scripture events, set with 13th-century French scenery and customs, depicted from a Christian perspective, surrounded by three text scripts in five languages (Latin, Persian, Arabic, Judeo-Persian, and Hebrew).

  • The Manesse Codex illuminations are what first enticed me to become a scribe. Also known as the “Great Heidelberg Book of Songs”, it was created in Zurich around 1300 to 1340.The manuscript is famous for its colorful full-page miniatures, one dedicated to each of 137 singers.  The illuminations display the poets in an idealised manner performing cou
    rtly activities. The codex also has
     a comprehensive ballad and poetry collection in Middle High German language. 
  • Hildegard von Bingen‘s Ruptsberg manuscript. This “Renaissance” woman was creative and knowledgeable. I haven’t found any heavily illuminated works online, but the manuscript link shows her illumination. I am enthralled by her medieval mandalas, a spiritual art form that originated in India.
  • The Sherborne Missal is an early 15th-century manuscript, the largest and most lavishly decorated English medieval service book to survive the Reformation‘s destruction. Besides the religious services, it has 48 naturally portrayed birds, most identified by their Middle English names. Some names I even recognize. It also contains seldom seen patron and scribe portraits and inscriptions naming them.

  • The Visconti Hours isn’t directly online as others I’ve listed. If you don’t buy the facsimile I’ve googled some images. It is a fanciful, richly decorated Book of Hours painted by two very different illuminators in the late 1300s. Giovannino dei Grassi and his workshop painted the first folios for Giangaleazzo Visconti, despot of Milan, but the Duke’s death in 1402 interrupted the work. Belbello da Pavia completed the manuscript for the duke’s son, in 1412. The book’s inventive forms and scintillating colors, extensive use of gold leaf, silver, and lapis lazuli make it an absolute treasure. 

    • Winchester Bible is a lavish Romanesque illuminated manuscript produced between 1160 and 1175. Its folios measure 583 x 396 mm. making it the largest surviving 12th-century English Bible. With 468 huge pages and each bi-folium taking an entire calf-skin it probably took over 250 calves to make. Except for a few entries, the manuscript is the work of a single scribe and probably took four years.

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