Devotions and Delights

Janet Backhouse explores the Illuminated Books of Gothic England.

Vital to our view of the Middle Ages are the illuminated manuscripts which have survived all hazards to become star attractions in the museums and libraries of the present day. Curators and exhibition organisers are well aware of the fascination which they exert over the general public, who relate to their intimate scale and jewel-like brilliance more readily than to the larger but often more fragmentary stone or metalwork of similar age. Popular first-hand knowledge of these treasures is inevitably limited to the single exhibited page or to the subject picked out for reproduction. Even in scholarly circles manuscript studies were until comparatively recently regarded as somewhat esoteric. As each individual manuscript may contain dozens, in some cases even hundreds, of separate miniatures, this is one field in which exciting discoveries can still be made. Indeed, even the most famous and apparently thoroughly investigated manuscripts do often manage to produce surprises when re-examined in the light of fresh developments elsewhere.

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