As beautiful as the day they were created

Today we visited the British Library exhibition of Illuminated Manuscripts.  It is very well organised, starting with the preparation of the parchment and vellum and the grinding of malachite and lapis lazuli and other minerals to provide the colours.  The careful application of gold leaf was also demonstrated on video.  When you think that the work was carried out by either natural light or candlelight, it is amazing how painstaking it was. The folds of the gowns, the expressions of the people depicted.  Breathtaking!  Much of the collection belonged to Edward IV, who commissioned works from the masters in Bruges, where he spent time in his exile.  One bible, originally the property of  Cardinal Wolsey, had been used by him and Henry VIII in their attempt to bolster his petition for divorce.  Unfortunately the pages on display did not show any of the notes in the margin.

The earliest books on display are from the 10th Century, showing the neat, squareish Anglo-saxon hand, which is actually easier to read than some of the later ones.  The illumination in these examples is less ornate and colourful than in the medieval books.  All of the books, mainly religious such as Books of Hours, had been specially commissioned by nobles or royals, who obviously didn’t mind a few oddities  such as the army of the Midianites in full medieval armour. The beauty of these illuminations is absolutely stunning, done by artists who devoted their life, and probably their eyesight, to the work.  Even the pattern work on the borders of the pages is entrancing.

If you are in London and have the time, it is an exhibition well worth visiting – at about half the price of the Leonardo at the National Gallery.

15 thoughts on “As beautiful as the day they were created”

  1. I envy you Sheona – I will, unfortunately miss this. I’ve always reckoned that as the pens got better – so the writing got worse!

    It fascinates me that I can use documents in the National Archives that were written in the early 1200s and they are still as clear as the day they were made.

    I see that there was also a free exhibition about Mary Queen of Scots – did you manage to look at that while you were there?

    For Oz:

  2. Very interesting, Sheona and isn’t it wonderful?

    I’m a bit OZ like, but I’m much nearer, so I have no excuse for not visiting more often. I do feel that there is a great deal of restoration work goes on behind the scenes to preserve these manuscripts, and this is to be applauded.

    Good to make the effort and it is very rewarding, I agree.

  3. Araminta

    I don’t know whether the British Library is as strapped for cash as the National Archives. But the NA concentrates mainly on paper conservation – that deteriorates far more quickly than parchment.

    It is (or was when I spent a lot more time in the Archives) well known that if one reported a parchment document as needing conservation work it might well disappear for years… 🙂

  4. Hello Boadicea.

    Yes, it’s all about money, but I think they do their best, and it is extremely expensive and labour intensive to restore or conserve parchment.

    I’m a actually always amazed at how much is preserved, considering.

  5. Sorry, OZ, but there’s a copyright issue on many examples. Just Google “illuminated manuscripts” and you get a marvellous array. Certainly no cameras allowed inside. Flash light can cause damage.

    Boadicea, because of today’s industrial action some of the rooms were closed. They had to keep the manuscript exhibition open because of advance ticket sales, as with the Leonardo at the National Gallery, which meant concentrating their staff who were working, in those areas.

  6. Isn’t it a sad state of affairs that the BBC felt it necessary to apologise for JC’s comments? Firstly, don’t we have the right to free speech, secondly, has no-one got a sense of humour any more and thirdly, why would anyone take him seriously anyway – even he doesn’t!
    Just made the Beeb look stupid and society shameful to me.

  7. Clarkson is always over OTT in his writing as well as his comments. No one takes it seriously. Sorry, I mean no one with any intelligence takes it seriously. As for the Beeb – past praying for, I think.

  8. Never mind those who take Clarkson seriously (although he talks a lot more sense than most). Pity those who profess to be ‘outraged’.



  9. I’m disappointed in JC – he has provided an apology. They are becoming utter meaningless these days. Politicians, celebs, sports stars, they’re all at it but without any contrition or feeling. Bliar started it with his slavery thing. All bollocks..

  10. OZ: I’m lazy and roughly 6,000 miles away. Still, it must be done eventually. One of the local museums in the San Francisco Soviet Socialist Republic, People’s Republic of China has a temporary exhibit, most from the V&A’s permanent collection, on the Princely States of India from the 17th-20th centuries. It’s right stunning

    Boadicea: thanks for the linkytypethingymajjiger. (As a German, I reserve the right to create ungainly long words that should be split up)

Add your Comment

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s