What is an Illuminated Manuscript

A handwritten book decorated with brilliant colors, miniature pictures, silver, gold and an elaborate design is primarily an illustrated manuscript. There is no denying the fact that Egypt has the longest tradition of illuminated manuscripts. Most people consider an illuminated manuscript as a manuscript in which it is possible to augment the text with miniature illustrations, borders as well as decorated initials. The earliest surviving illuminated manuscripts date from AD 400 to 600.

Basic Introduction

In a broader sense, Illuminated manuscripts refer to decorated manuscripts hired from the Western traditions. It is mandatory to write the illuminated manuscripts by hand. It is a matter of great regret that the art of producing illuminated manuscripts slowly disappeared with the gradual advent of printing press. Traditionally speaking, one can say that illuminated manuscripts were produced in the monasteries alone. Monks who had a good sense of aesthetic value primarily designed illuminated manuscripts. Professional scriptoria also produced such decorative handwritten books. The professional scriptorium was primarily medieval copy centers.

Various Decorative Aspects

An illuminated manuscript boasts of a few decorative aspects. Some of that are as follows:

  • Illuminated Manuscript Includes Silver/Gold Leaf
  • Includes a Vivid Palette of Colors
  • Colors such as Deep Reds and Rich Blues Decorate Manuscripts
  • Ornamental Capitals with Heavily Decorative Borders
  • Portraits of Members of Nobility

A well-known illuminated manuscript is ‘Book of Kells’. ‘Book of Kells’ has gained paramount importance due to the associated intricate decorative patterns. The entire process of illumination demands detailed labor.

Steps of Illumination

The detailed steps required are highlighted as under:

  • Execution of Silverpoint Drawing
  • Application of Burnished Gold Dots
  • Modulation Colors
  • Outlining of Marginal Figures along with Continuation of Abovementioned Steps
  • Penning of rinceaux
  • Painting the Marginal Figures

It is necessary to plan the decoration and illumination phase at the inception of the work itself. The text should be written prior commencement of illumination phase. The same people performed the text as well as the illumination phase in the early medieval period. In the early medieval period, monks primarily completed the text and illumination phase.


One is sure to remain amazed by the fact that an illuminated manuscript takes years to complete. The total duration was calculated from the day monks designed the pages to the day when the inlaid binding and heavy jeweled process was completed.

There can be least doubt about the reality that every single piece of illuminated manuscript is a priceless and exclusive singular piece of art. Illuminated manuscripts find its importance in museums and other places of historical importance. A fortunate few private collectors do have a collection of illuminated manuscripts. One can expect the importance of illuminated manuscripts to grow in the future as well.

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