Art and illumination

The most sumptuous books produced in the Middle Ages are now described as ‘illuminated’ – literally lit up by gold or silver, or enhanced with painted decoration or illustrations. Many fine examples of manuscript art can be found in the collections of the British Library and Bibliothèque nationale de France.

A decorated initial containing a representation of St Denis alongside a demon, from a 12th-century Passionale.

Saints in medieval manuscripts

Article by:
Tuija Ainonen

The veneration of saints was an integral part of medieval culture. Tuija Ainonen examines a collection of manuscripts that contain saints’ lives and portraits.

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A detail of a calendar page for September from an English Psalter, showing an illustration of grape harvesting and wine production.

Medieval calendars

Article by:
Kathleen Doyle, Cristian Ispir

Calendars provided one of the most important means of time keeping for the medieval world. Cristian Ispir and Kathleen Doyle explain how they were used.

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An illustration of Christ and the personified Holy Church, represented as the Bride and the Bridegroom, from the Chartres Bible.

French manuscript illumination

Article by:
Charlotte Denoël

Drawings and painted decoration in manuscripts ornamented the text as well as illustrated or commented on it. Charlotte Denoël outlines the history of manuscript art in early medieval France.

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A detail of an elaborate decorated initial and frame from a late 11th-century illuminated Psalter.

English manuscript illumination

Article by:
Kathleen Doyle, Eleanor Jackson

Manuscripts reflect the creativity of artists and scribes, and the resources of their patrons. Kathleen Doyle and Eleanor Jackson outline the development of book art in early medieval England.

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A detail of a framed initial letter at the beginning of the Gospel of St John, from a 9th-century Gospel-book.

Franco-Saxon manuscript decoration

Article by:
Emilia Henderson

Manuscripts decorated in the Franco-Saxon style are some of the most visually stunning signs of the flow of inspiration and connections across the English Channel in the early Middle Ages. Emilia Henderson examines the design and production of these works.

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A depiction of the Adoration of the Magi, from the ivory binding of a 10th-century Gospel-book.

Medieval bindings

Article by:
Charlotte Denoël

A binding is an essential component of a manuscript, designed to hold it together and to protect it from wear and tear. Charlotte Denoël discusses the aesthetic and symbolic value of medieval bindings on books used ceremoniously and for study.

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An illustration of a kneeling monk holding up a manuscript, from a collection of penitential texts.

Manuscript production in England and France

Article by:
Calum Cockburn

Books were made in monasteries across England and France during the early medieval period. Calum Cockburn introduces some important sites of manuscript production that were active between 700 and 1200.

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A portrait of the Evangelist St Luke writing, from The Préaux Gospels.

How to make a medieval manuscript

Article by:
Kathleen Doyle, Patricia Lovett

Before the introduction of printing to Europe, all books were written by hand as manuscripts. The process of making a manuscript was carefully planned and thought out in advance.

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Further themes

Art and illumination

Learn more about manuscript art from the illumination and decoration found in medieval books.

History and learning

Explore the spread and exchange of medieval culture and language before 1200.

Science and nature

From medical surgery to the stars of the constellations, what were the scientific works of the early Middle Ages and how were they transmitted?

Making manuscripts

Learn more about book production in the Middle Ages and how to illuminate a manuscript today.

Christian religion and belief

Discover how religious works were transmitted in the Middle Ages.

Medieval manuscript collections today

Learn more about modern care and research of medieval manuscripts.