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Index by Period

The Art of the Illuminated Manuscript
(500 - 1600)

The earliest medieval art was produced by anonymous scribes working in monasteries painstakingly illuminateing manuscripts. Many of these beautiful works still survive, ascribed to artists such as William de Brailes, who worked in Oxford between 1238 and 1252. Artist like him specialised in the illumination of bibles and psalters and worked in monasteries and workshops across the Christian world producing uplifting volumes for the very richest clients.

At this time relatively few people could read, even among the ruling class, so illustration played a hugely important role in conveying the Christian message. Religious paintings were used also as teaching and learning tools, similar in intent in many ways to stained glass windows in cathedrals and churches. It was not until the nineteenth century that the majority of the population was able to read, so a painting of a pertinent story from, for example, the gospels, would be used to reinforce the verbal story from the local priest. Of course, not everyone had easy access to such magnificent pictures, but many were displayed in the great cathedrals and institutions of Europe open to the public for their edification and enlightenment.

contributed by Gifford, Katya


10 April 2002

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