Park West’s Hidden Treasures: Illuminated Manuscripts

Illuminated Manuscript. "Christ Kneeling in Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemene" (c. 1475 France, Loire Valley)

Illuminated Manuscript. “Christ Kneeling in Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemene” (c. 1475 France, Loire Valley).  Recto on left, verso on right.

Among Park West Gallery’s vast collection of artwork from hundreds of classic and modern masters are centuries-old works: illuminated manuscripts.

Illuminated manuscripts are books with hand-decorated borders and illustrations, often adorned with gold leaf. These ancient manuscripts were typically used in church services as altar Bibles or to support the daily devotions of monks, nuns and laymen. Among the most well-known illuminated manuscripts is the Book of Kells, considered to be Ireland’s finest national treasure.

Each page is created by hand, including text, rubrics (text written in red for emphasis) and miniature drawings. Over the years, Park West Gallery has amassed a collection of illuminated manuscript pages and made them available to collectors.

Katherine Ellis, a gallery consultant with Park West, has a background in fine art and book making and proves to be an excellent resource in understanding illuminated manuscripts. She explains that the manuscripts are literal pieces of history that date back to the 13th century, and contain some of the best examples of portraiture from the Middle Ages.

“They’re so delicate – they’re made on vellum, and the paints are plant-based, so everything is something that, if not taken care of, can be destroyed easily,” Ellis says. “For them to last this long is amazing.”

 

The Making of Manuscripts

illuminated manuscript book of hours park west gallery

Illuminated manuscript. “Miniature of St. Nicolas” (Second quarter of the 15th century). From a Book of Hours.

The illumination of these manuscripts comes from the process of gilding and painting each page. The most common materials used were gold leaf, silverpoint drawings and various plant-based paints.

Until the 12th century, manuscripts were mainly created in monasteries by monks. Larger monasteries housed scriptoriums where monks who specialized in producing manuscripts could work without being disturbed. By the 14th century, manuscripts were produced by commercial operations, such as in Paris and Rome.

“They would take years to do,” Ellis says. “It’s not something where people could go into a store and buy one. They would have to gather the materials, make the vellum, and then it was written and illustrated.”

At first, only clergy had access to illuminated manuscripts, but in the 13th century they became available to lay people. Combined with an increase in literacy, manuscripts grew in popularity, resulting in an increase of commissions placed by royalty and aristocrats in the 14th century.

“They were a sign of your status,” Ellis says. “You had to be able to afford all the materials.”

By the end of the Middle Ages, illuminated manuscripts became so popular that secular literature, including mythology, poetry and history books were created in this style. Eventually, the arrival of the printing press in the 1450s hailed the end of illuminated manuscripts.

 

Types of Manuscripts

The Park West collection contains pages from illuminated manuscripts created between the 13th and 15th centuries. The types of illuminated manuscripts include the following.

 

The Antiphoner

Illuminated manuscript. Leaf from an Antiphoner, in Latin (Late 13th century)

Illuminated manuscript. Leaf from an Antiphoner, in Latin (Late 13th century)

Found in medieval churches, the Antiphoner was a volume of music used in daily services. It contained the musical portions of the Breviary (see below), and were often large since an entire choir had to use one copy of the book.

The Breviary

Illuminated manuscript. Leaf from a Manuscript in Latin, from a Dominican Breviary- Antiphoner (c. 1325-1350)

Illuminated manuscript. Leaf from a Manuscript in Latin, from a Dominican Breviary-Antiphoner (c. 1325-1350)

The Breviary contains hymns, Psalms, anthems and other prayers for the Office (the official set of prayers for the hours of each day) to be used in church or in private. They were used by priests, monks and laymen.

The Book of Hours

Illuminated manuscript. "The Crucifixion" (c. 1475). Leaf from a Book of Hours.

Illuminated manuscript. “The Crucifixion” (c. 1475). Leaf from a Book of Hours.

The most popular of the manuscripts was the Book of Hours. The book contained a standard set of prayers and psalms intended for personal devotional use at home as opposed to in church. The book evolved from monastic cycles of prayer that are divided into eight sections, or “hours.” The book gained widespread use in the 13th century.

The Psalter

Illuminated manuscript. Psalter Leaf (1501)

Illuminated manuscript.
Psalter Leaf (1501)

The Psalter is the earliest version of medieval manuscripts for private devotional use, appearing as early as the ninth century (thereby predating the Book of Hours). Contained in the book were Psalms and other texts to be recited as morning and evening prayers.

 

Collecting with Park West

Illuminated manuscript. "David Slaying Goliath" (late 15th century, France). From a Book of Hours.

Illuminated manuscript. “David Slaying Goliath” (late 15th century, France). From a Book of Hours.

Park West preserves pages from these manuscripts by mounting them in UV protected Plexiglas. To enhance appreciation of the entire page, illuminated manuscripts are framed so both the recto and verso (front and back) are visible. A full description is provided for each as well as historical information pertaining to the manuscript’s origin.

“With how we frame them, you can see both sides of the page, so you could rotate it if you wanted,” Ellis says. “They are sealed in the Plexi, and the corners are archival so it is held in place.”

Even so, they should be treated like other works of art. For instance, Ellis recommends not displaying manuscripts in direct sunlight or in rooms with a lot of moisture.

Those interested in collecting a piece of illuminated history can contact our gallery consultants at (800) 521-9654 ext. 4 or sales@parkwestgallery.com.

Leave a comment

Prove you\'re human. *

Latest News

  • Behind The Artist: Mark Kanovich

    Contemplative and discerning, timid, yet trusting — Georgian-born artist Mark Kanovich doesn’t claim to understand the complexity of human emotion. Instead, he confides in its uncertainty.Consider the words of ...
    Read More
  • Renew Your Collection with the 2017 Spring Sale

    The weather may tell you different, but spring has officially arrived at Park West Gallery.With the vibrant hues of Maya Green’s flowers, the lush landscapes of David Najar and ...
    Read More
  • Behind-the-Scenes Look at Chris DeRubeis’ Metal Art

    Flying sparks, dancing flames and chemical cocktails – these are the components that combine to create Chris DeRubeis’ Abstract Sensualism®.Park West Gallery gives collectors an ...
    Read More
  • Jim Warren Collection Now Online

    More than 50 unique works by Neo-Surrealist artist Jim Warren are now available to view and collect from Park West Gallery.Warren’s first solo exhibition with Park West Gallery, “The Painted ...
    Read More
  • Alaska Cruises: Everything You Need to Know

    An Alaska cruise offers stunning views of glaciers, incredible wildlife and a rich culture. But preparing for one of these breathtaking cruises can be tricky.There are a number of factors ...
    Read More
  • Park West Foundation Breaks Records at Best Buddies Fundraiser

    Achieving goals can be fun and rewarding, but none may be more worthwhile than breaking fundraising records.The Park West Foundation participated in the record-breaking 7th Annual South Florida Friendship Walk ...
    Read More
  • New Study Reveals Artists Have Structurally Different Brains

    Calling someone “right-brained” is another way of implying they actively use the creative side of their brain compared to the analytical “left” side. A new study cited by the ...
    Read More
  • Therapeutic Benefits of Art

    Paul Cézanne famously wrote: “Don’t be an art critic, but paint, there lies salvation.”The radical Post-Impressionist imparted these words decades before modern psychology, mental welfare, and stress management were ...
    Read More
  • Marko Mavrovich Paints His Story in New Video

    Artist Marko Mavrovich makes no apologies for his studio. To him, the cluttered piles of paintbrushes, wood and canvases are perfection.“It’s just one of ...
    Read More
  • How Jim Warren’s Artistic Dream Led to a Grammy Award

    Jim Warren is a Grammy Award-winning artist, but not in the traditional sense.Warren’s artwork for Bob Seger’s album “Against the Wind” earned the album the Grammy for Best Album ...
    Read More
  • Tim Yanke Talks Art and Life Lessons

    What lessons can be gleaned from art?Abstract artist Tim Yanke shared what he has learned with Alisa Zee during her “Sunday Edition” morning radio show on March 5. The interview ...
    Read More
  • Behind the Scenes: Jim Warren’s Artistic Process

    As a self-taught artist, Neo-Surrealist painter Jim Warren developed his own method to create his out-of-this-world art.Take a behind-the-scenes look at how Warren brings his artwork to life.Step 1: Sketch ...
    Read More