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Illuminated Manuscripts

Over 3,000 stunning images from key manuscripts of the 8th to 15th centuries, casting light on art and culture across Britain and Ireland.

You can see more in our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

Image from the illuminated manuscripts collection

Curator's introduction

Manuscripts from the 8th to the 15th century

Before the introduction of printing to Western Europe during the mid-15th century, all books were written by hand. The Latin for hand, ’manus’, and for writing, ’scriptum’, give us the word manuscript. Making a manuscript was slow and demanding: sometimes routinely laborious, sometimes creatively glorious, and always expensive.

The most luxurious manuscripts were illuminated: lit up by decorations and pictures in brightly-coloured pigments 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. More than 3,000 images have been selected here from manuscripts associated with particular places or regions across the British Isles. They reflect almost 1,000 years of history, from around 600 to 1600.

Read the full curator's introduction

Curator's choice

Curator's introduction highlights personal favourite items from the collection

See all of the items in this exhibition

The opening of St Luke's Gospel in the Lindisfarne Gospels

This beautifully decorated copy of the four Gospels was made by a single artist-scribe (perhaps B...

Lord Lovell Presenting The Lectionary To A Canon of Salisbury Cathedral (?), In 'The Lovell Lectionary'

John, Lord Lovell, of Titchmarsh (near Thrapston in Northamptonshire) died in 1408. This lectiona...

The Meeting Of Sir Lancelot And Queen Guinevere, In 'The Romance Of Lancelot Du Lac''

Originally written and illuminated in France, c. 1300, this manuscript had reached England by the...

Historiated initial with a signed self-portrait of William de Brailes in 'The de Brailes Hours' f.43r

William de Brailes is the only 13th-century English non-monastic illuminator known to have signed...

St Bartholomew giving a scourge to Guthlac as he is tormented by demons in 'The Guthlac Roll'

St Guthlac was an ascetic hermit of Crowland in Lincolnshire. A cult quickly developed after his ...

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