Illuminated manuscripts

Wonder at these amazing hand-painted books of past ages and marvel at the vibrant colours used – these are works of art that were made for kings and queens, monasteries, bishops and counts.
Before the introduction of printing to Western Europe during the mid-15th century, all books were written by hand, a process that was slow and demanding, sometimes routinely laborious, yet often creatively glorious. The most luxurious manuscripts were ‘illuminated’ with the addition of brightly-coloured decoration and burnished gold leaf. They are among the most dazzling and intriguing objects ever created, and the British Library’s collection is one of the finest in the world. The selection here can only hint at the breadth and depth of this collection which spans almost 1,000 years of history, and reflects a range of countries, cultures, languages and faiths.

Roman de la Rose

Roman de la Rose illustration f.12v

‘The Story of the Rose’ was composed in France at the height of the age of chivalry and courtly love by Guillaume de Lorris.

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Melisende Psalter

Melisende Psalter f.11 showing the ascention of Christ to heaven after his resurrection

The Melisende Psalter retains its original covers, which are carved from ivory.

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Carmina Regia

Regina Carmina showing King Robert of Naples, f.10v

In this image Robert of Anjou, King of Naples, is shown in profile against a rich blue background patterned with fleurs-de-lis.

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Coronation book of Charles V of France

Coronation Order of Charles V, f.69

This book offers us a glimpse of the rituals that ruled medieval life at the highest level of society. It records the details of a royal coronation.

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Sherborne Missal

The Sherborne Missal f.276

The Sherborne Missal is the greatest surviving masterpiece of 15th-century English book production.

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Bedford Hours

The Bedford Hours showing the creation and the garden of Eden showing Adam, Eve and the serpent (with a woman's face) at the moment that Eve eats the apple

This magnificent manuscript was made in France and adapted for John, Duke of Bedford. John was a younger brother of Henry V and regent for his young nephew Henry Vl. 

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The Golf book

The golf Book f.22v showing a boating party

The Golf Book is a book of hours: a religious text that contains prayers and psalms for private worship.

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Copyright: © British Library

Phulban - a Persian romance

Phulban by Ibn Nishati

Phulban is a unique illuminated manuscript of love and adventure.

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Indian miniature painting

Indian Miniature Painting

This image was painted in the Deccan area of South India, possibly Bijapur, in about 1660.

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Sforza Hours

A painting in the Sforza Hours showing Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Giovan Pietro Birago. Milan, c. 1490

The Sforza Hours is one of the most beautifully decorated Renaissance books of hours

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Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan

The opening of Timur’s grandson Iskandar Sultan’s pocket miscellany, f.2v

The Miscellanies of Iskandar Sultan are illustrated compendia of texts.

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The Anvar-i Suhayli ('Lights of Canopus')

The Anvār-i Suhaylī or Lights of Canopus (the brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina) is a collection of interrelated fables, mostly about animals, set within a frame story.

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