At the dawn of the modern era Western European manuscript illumination enjoyed a truly remarkable final flourishing. During the period that is renowned for its high artistic achievements – the Renaissance – exponents of the quintessential medieval art form reasserted their capacity for artistic invention and innovation. Their art enabled the hand-written book to prove astonishingly resilient even one hundred years after the introduction of printing. Their most accomplished works, rich in vibrant colour, complex imagery and spatial interplay, rivalled the most renowned painted panels of the period.
Most notably illuminators working in what now forms parts of Belgium and northern France – loosely termed Flemish illuminators – created extravagant and lavish manuscripts in which the appearance of the illustrated page was revitalised and given new direction. Many illustrations painted by them between about 1470 and 1560 echo the masterful handling of colour, light, texture and space that such great early Netherlandish painters as Jan van Eyck (d. 1441) and Rogier van der Weyden (d. 1464) had achieved in their portraits and religious paintings painted in oil on panel. Many that were painted in deluxe copies of the lay person’s most common prayer book, the Book of Hours, project their subjects with a vividness and emotional power equal to that of the famous panel paintings of the Ghent painter Hugo van der Goes (d. 1482). Others include landscapes that were at least equal in sophistication and complexity to those long admired in early Netherlandish panel paintings and at best anticipated the famous panoramas of Pieter Breugel the Elder.
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