03. Early Europe & Colonial Americas, Art & Humanities

Student series! Two Medieval Manuscripts

Student series! Two Medieval Manuscripts

I love it when I have old or current AP Art History students in Humanities, because they inevitably write awesome posts that are linked to by AP curriculum.

An illuminated manuscript is specifically a manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition or decoration. Most manuscripts were written on parchment and made out of animal hides that were flattened down and cut down to their appropriate size. Creating a manuscript was known as a “complex and frequently costly process.”

Read more:  Student Series! Miserable Monks

Only the wealthy obtained these religious books because they were so highly valued in worth and most people at the time were unable to read, especially in Latin which was the language that was integrated into these books. There were several manuscripts made during this time, but some of the most popular ones known to the Middle Ages are various Book of Hours and the Lindisfarne Gospels.


The Book of Hours

The Book of Hours got its name from the text called the “Hours of the Virgin,” which was a devotional text that was used to venerate Mother Mary. This was a small prayer-book, much smaller than an average sized paperback book.
The Book of Hours was a prayer-book that was designed for laymen and consisted of a compendium of psalms, verses and hymns from the Bible, and antiphons and prayers that were all used mainly for private worship. It first appeared within the mid-13th century and eventually became mass-produced. These prayer books were thought of more as a medieval status symbol and it represented literacy for the middle class as well.

Read more: Writing & Art

Lindisfarne Gospels

The Book of Lindisfarne Gospels was originally created in Lindisfarne, an island just off the coast of Northumberland which is located in the UK. The scribe that wrote this book started out by interpreting and contemplating the words from a manuscript that was created in Italy.

Within this book, he translated the Gospels of Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John and interpreted it into Latin. While creating this book, he illuminated the gospel text while integrating images of snakes and birds that twist themselves into several knots or other “curvaceous and overlapping forms” that would convey meditative contemplation of the illusion of the three-dimensional images that brought the pages of manuscripts to life.


Saint Luke Incipit Page

  • “Incipit”, which means the opening words of Saint Luke’s gospel
  • Has numerous Celtic spiral ornaments and the step patterns that are used appear to be enlarged especially in the “O”
  • In the lower right hand corner, the manuscript includes the detail of a cat that ate 8 birds

Saint Luke Portrait Page

  • The traditional symbol that was associated specifically with Saint Luke was the calf; known to be the sacrificial animal at the time
  • Saint Luke is being identified by Greek words while using Latin characters; “Hagios Lucas”
  • He sits with his legs crossed while holding a scroll and a writing instrument to indicate that he was one of the main writers or scribes

Cross Page from the Book of Matthew

  • Integrates a mixture of traditional Celtic imagery and Christian theology
  • Cross is depicted on a page that is filled with “horror vacui” decoration
  • Arranged symmetrically
  • Use of zoomorphic characters within

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