A Short History of the Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts

Server Costs Fundraiser 2024

Help our mission to provide free history education to the world! Please donate and contribute to covering our server costs in 2024. With your support, millions of people learn about history entirely for free every month.
$2192 / $18000


Kelly Macquire
published on 11 January 2022

Illuminated manuscripts are handwritten books that are highly decorated in precious materials like gold or silver. The use of metallic materials like gold and silver is what gives these texts their name ‘illuminated’, as they reflect the light. These handmade books were often on Christian scripture, but some early examples have survived such as the works of ancient writers like the Roman poet Virgil. Muslim artisans also created books using the same technique to ornately decorate their books, but the term illuminated manuscripts usually only refers to works produced in Europe on Christian themes.

Illuminated manuscripts were expensive to purchase, which means only those with plenty of money could afford them. Illuminated manuscripts were initially only created by monks in abbeys, but as the demand increased and they became more popular, their production became commercialised. The Book of Hours, a Christian devotional of prayers, was the most popular type of book, given that more Book of Hours texts have survived than any other works produced during the time.

It was between the seventh and the sixteenth centuries that the greatest examples of illuminated manuscripts were created, since by then the basics of illustration and decoration had been perfected. The best known, and probably the quintessential illuminated manuscript dates from c. 800 and is known as The Book of Kells. The Book of Kells was produced by the monks of St. Columba’s order of Iona in Scotland somewhere, but a precise location isn’t known (although there are many theories about its composition which place its creation in places like the island of Iona, Kells in Ireland, or Lindisfarne in Britain.



0:00​ Introduction
0:54 What is an Illuminated Manuscript?
2:31 Materials Used to Make Illuminated Manuscripts
3:39 How Were Illuminated Manuscripts Made?
6:17 The Early Illuminated Manuscripts
7:23 The Book of Kells
8:42 The Printing Press and the End of the Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts

Illuminated Manuscripts https://www.worldhistory.org/Illuminated_Manuscripts/
Twelve Greatest Illuminated Manuscripts https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1185/twelve-greatest-illuminated-manuscripts/
Book of Kells https://www.worldhistory.org/Book_of_Kells/
The Daily Life of Medieval Monks https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1293/the-daily-life-of-medieval-monks/
Interview: Early Medieval Irish Book Art https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1270/interview-early-medieval-irish-book-art/
The Printing Revolution in Renaissance Europe https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1632/the-printing-revolution-in-renaissance-europe/

The Crusades: A Brief History of the Medieval Religious Wars https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E33qpetUCVQ
Eleanor of Aquitaine: the Medieval Queen of England and France in the High Middle Ages https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAP7OHmBcZY
Introduction to Geoffrey Chaucer, his Life and his Minor Works https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRSCmA2KUu0
King Arthur: The History and Story of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4USmGPfK2M

You can find all attribution and credits for images, animations, graphics and music here - https://worldhistory.typehut.com/a-short-history-of-the-medieval-illuminated-manuscripts-images-and-attributions-7485

Journey by Carriage
Greg Joy (SOCAN)

Willem Vredelant / Ceoil
Public Domain US - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain

Unknown author / User: Evadeco https://lib.ugent.be/viewer/archive.ugent.be%3A7F0C4994-C579-11E7-8646-155E6EE4309A#?c=&m=&s=&cv=121&xywh=-281%2C-357%2C5594%2C4360
CC BY SA 4.0 - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

World History Encyclopedia

#illuminatedmanuscripts #medieval #medievalilluminatedmanuscriptc

Remove Ads
Subscribe to this author

About the Author

Kelly Macquire
Kelly is a graduate from Monash University who has completed her BA (Honours) in Ancient History and Archaeology, focussing on iconography and status in Pylos burials. She has a passion for mythology and the Aegean Bronze Age.

Cite This Work

APA Style

Macquire, K. (2022, January 11). A Short History of the Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/video/2697/a-short-history-of-the-medieval-illuminated-manusc/

Chicago Style

Macquire, Kelly. "A Short History of the Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified January 11, 2022. https://www.worldhistory.org/video/2697/a-short-history-of-the-medieval-illuminated-manusc/.

MLA Style

Macquire, Kelly. "A Short History of the Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 11 Jan 2022. Web. 13 Jul 2024.