September 6, 2012 by Gail Armstrong
GILT PLEASURES – Introductory Post
I love illuminated manuscripts. I first discovered them when I lived in London, a few blocks from the British Museum, which I visited weekly (over 20 years ago now). I still remember the awe and delight as I saw one treasure after another, each an exquisite work of artistry. I was dumb-founded at the skill, talent and care each one must have required of its creator – and at the fact these fragile masterpieces had survived the centuries.
As it turns out, a remarkable number have survived the centuries and, in these wondrous internet days, extensive collections have been digitized by various care-takers and published online. I regularly plunder their collections for my own enjoyment, and have decided to share the bounty with any who care to partake by way of this blog.
My aim is not lofty or scholarly – I just want to share these images I find so beautiful, as well as my thoughts on why they appeal to me. I hope others who enjoy these images will find them and share with me their thoughts and favourites too.
So without further ado, I give you, as my first offering, a collection I consider to be among the most beautiful pages ever created. These are all from a single manuscript in the Houghton Library collection at Harvard University, listed as MS Typ 0252 and created by an artist known as the Master of Claude of France.
Here is the link to where these, and more images from the work, are housed online in the university’s Digital Scriptorium: http://app.cul.columbia.edu:8080/exist/scriptorium/individual/MH-H-104.xml?showLightbox=yes.
I find these pages breathtaking. My other loves (and hobbies) are gardening and botanical painting, so it’s not a wonder these decorated borders, with their realistic renderings of flowers and insects, should appeal to me. But beyond that, they are superbly composed and painted — a jewel-like frame to the beautiful calligraphy of the text. And of course there is that magnificent gilding — the reason these types of pages are called “illuminated”, by virtue of the way the gold reflects the light.
These particular pages seem, to my eye, to be a refined and beautiful culmination of the naturalistic “strewn” border which I believe originated in Flemish manuscripts (I’m not a scholar of these manuscripts but have been perusing them in books and online for 20 years, and that’s my impression).
I should add that the manuscript originated from Tours, France, and is dated between 1500 – 1550. In addition to these pages, which consist of decorated borders and text only, there are seven pages of “miniatures” illustrating various New Testament scenes. They are also very fine but don’t appeal to me the way these borders do.
Do you find these pages as beautiful as I do?