In a strict sense illuminated manuscripts are manuscripts decorated with gold and silver, but the term is widely used for all sorts of illustrated manuscripts. Illustrations in manuscripts can have different forms and play different functions. They may be pictures independent from their surrounding elements, then they are called miniatures. They can also appear as decorated initials at the beginning of a chapter or a paragraph of a text. Illuminations can also take a form of decorative frames surrounding a text or a miniature, called borders, or marginal drawings and squiggles, called marginalia. In some cases, illuminations play an important role in identifying the manuscript's monastery of origin.
Explore sections listed below containing further explanations and examples of the different types of illuminations.
ProductionIlluminators played an important role in manuscript production.
MiniaturesMiniatures are illustrations in illuminated manuscripts.
InitialsThe first letter of a new section of text is often enlarged and can be highly decorated.
BordersA border is a decoration in the form of floral frame plants.
MarginaliaMarginalia are drawings, squiggles
andmore in the margins.
The term 'rubric' is used for the emphasised text either at the beginning or at the end of a chapter. Read more about rubrics on the page 'Writing'.
In some cases, the colours of the illuminations was already decided before the illumination began. They could be made from various ingredients, from animals or plants, or from more surprising ingredients such as urine or earwax.
Black pigment: can be made of coal, squid ink, soot, vitriol.
White pigment: can be made of af chalk, plaster, chinese clay, bone powder, white lead.
Yellow pigment: can be made of saffron, turmeric, ochre, orpiment.
Red pigment: can be made of alkanna (plant), orseille (lichen), Tyrian purple (from mollusks), cochineal.
Green pigment: can be made of blackberry, sloe bush, iris, malachite.
Blue pigment: can be made of woad, leaves from the indigo plant, extract from sunflower seeds, azurite.