A Whiter Shade of Pale In Stitches: Embroidered Book Covers Roosevelt’s One-Man Army – Illustrator Arthur Szyk
Seder Keri’ath Shema Alha-Mitah (Prayers before Retiring at Night) by Jospe ben Meyer Schmalkalden of Mainz
Seder Keri’ath Shema Alha-Mitah (Prayers before Retiring at Night)
by Jospe ben Meyer Schmalkalden of Mainz
The word manuscript comes from the Latin manu scriptum, which translates literally to "written with hands". It typically refers to any document produced manually, through handwriting, chiseling or other method, without the use of machines.

An illuminated manuscript is any manuscript whose text is accompanied by decoration. It originally referred only to silver or gilt adornments, but came to be acceptable terminology for any manuscript with drawings, paintings or decorations such as ornate initials, borders, floral accoutrements and the like. Often the illuminations would depict a historical or rural/pastoral scene.

The earliest confirmed example of illuminated manuscripts in existence today originated some 2000+ years ago. While some of the oldest instances were on papyrus, a thick, papery substance produced from the pulped flesh of the Egyptian papyrus plant, most were made of parchment, a thin writing material made from the skin of an animal, usually calf, goat or sheep. The highest quality parchment, very smooth and fine, was called vellum.

Adieux A Marie Stuart by Charles Swinburne
Adieux A Marie Stuart
by Charles Swinburne
Some of the best examples of illuminated manuscripts surviving today come in the form of Books of Hours, rich and ornate devotional books containing collections or hymns, psalms, and prayers. The term Books of Hours is derived from their attention to the hourly prayers that devout Catholics were expected to stop and observe multiple times daily.

With the increasing availability of paper in the late Middle Ages, and the advent of printing, manuscripts went from being heavily scrolled and decorated to having only borders, only initials or other sparse embellishment, and eventually the production of illuminated manuscripts became very rare.

Contemporarily, as books are more and more often mass-produced reading copies, the existence and availability of genuine, original illuminated manuscripts becomes increasingly scarce. There are countless facsimiles and reproductions, which are painstakingly created to be as beautiful as the originals.They vary in price, but many are quite affordable. Illuminated pages removed from manuscripts are often sold separately, as stand-alone art, as well.

The luxury of illuminations present in a book creates another level of enjoyment; not only the information, entertainment and fascination in reading, but also the pure pleasure of beauty, art and attention to detail.

*Please note: Copies on display may sell quickly.


Carta Executoria de Hidalguia in favor of Juan Francisco Rodriguez
Carta Executoria de Hidalguia in favor of Juan Francisco Rodriguez


1586 - In Spanish. Illuminated manuscript. 48 Vellum leaves., One beautiful full page illumination incorporating the grantee’s arms, 36 lines written in black ink, multiple ruled red ink border, 12 headlines in blue and red lettered in liquid gold.


Liber Super Ethicorum Aristotelis (Commentary on the Ethics of Aristotle) by Thomas Aquinas
Liber Super Ethicorum Aristotelis
by Thomas Aquinas

1460-1480 - Aquinas' Commentary on the Ethics of Aristotle, in Latin, including 160 folios. The  illuminated frontispiece includes an historiated initial of St. Thomas, a three-quarter floral border set in black ink trellises, two painted roundels, the monogram YHS, and a white swan. An elegant example of a Renaissance manuscript decorated in the Ferrarese style.

Use of Rome In Latin and French
Use of Rome
In Latin and French


1460 - A fine, especially substantial Book of Hours with lively borders. Very attractive 17th century French mottled calf, neatly rebacked reusing the original spine, raised bands, backstrip in six compartments with elaborate floral gilt decoration. In a fine fleece-lined brown morocco box with raised bands and gilt titling.


Pieta - Lamentation (Descent from the Cross
Pieta - Lamentation (Descent from the Cross)

1480 - Fine Medieval miniature on vellum from a Northern French Book of Hours highlighted in gold. Upper compartment of the recto has the Pieta & Cross; it shows the cross with two men on ladders with torture instruments (one ascending and one descending the cross).


Qur'an - Western Iran or Ottoman Turkey
Qur'an - Western Iran or Ottoman Turkey

1600 - The large blue and gold hasps projecting into the margins from the center of the smooth border are reminiscent of Herati and Bukharan work of the 16th century. The style of illumination, decoration and calligraphy demonstrates the frequent movement of artists between artistic centers in Persia and the Ottoman Empire.


Grant of Arms to Gregorio de Castro by Emperor Charles V
Grant of Arms to Gregorio de Castro by Emperor Charles V

1536 - Early and handsome example of early 16th century Spanish illumination and grant of arms; signed by the Emperor and including two large miniatures. Text is surrounded by a wide border to top and lateral margins, embodying interlacing designs, flora and fauna, with a golden background. The border and heraldic decoration are splendid examples of the Hispano-Flemish school of miniature painting.


Yusof-o Zoleiha by Jami, Nurad-din 'Abd ar-Rahman
Yusof-o Zoleiha
by Jami, Nurad-din 'Abd ar-Rahman

1793 - Persian manuscript by Muhammed Aslam with splendid title ornament and 61 miniatures. Written space ruled in blue, red, and gold, sprinkled in gilt; chapter separators decorated with flowers and ornaments, verse headings in red ink with sparse decoration. A remarkable manuscript with meticulously crafted miniatures and beautiful, finely ornamented calligraphy.


Flemish Flower Manuscript
Flemish Flower Manuscript

1630 - These manuscripts form one of the earliest known collections of images of a significant number of different varieties of tulips: at least 20 are pictured, and although they are not identified they form a rare and valuable record of the cultivars of the period. In addition to tulips, the images also include pinks, narcissi, irises, martagon lilies, roses and asters.

The luxury limited edition of The Szyk Haggadah
The Haggadah
Arthur Szyk

2008 - The new luxury limited edition of The Arthur Szyk Haggadah. Hebrew and English Text. Szyk, the greatest 20th century illuminator and —in the words of historian Cecil Roth—"the greatest illuminator since the 16th century", considered the Passover Haggadah his masterwork. The 48 miniature paintings of this luxurious fine art book are the modern culmination of medieval tradition of illuminated manuscripts.


Bible in English - New Testament
Bible in English - New Testament


1400 - Copied by a single scribe (except Ten Commandments) in red and brown ink in a highly legible and skilled textualis (textura) hand: a professional scribe. Catchwords regularly boxed in red. Unflourished paraph marks throughout text in blue; line fillers in blue and red; unflourished smaller initials throughout in blue; large pen-flourished initials throughout in blue and red; with pen-flourished sprays and bar decoration to form borders.


Text from the Opening of Gospel Lessons
Text from the Opening of Gospel Lessons

No date - A very fine illuminated vellum manuscript leaf with an especially beautiful miniature of Saint John on Patmos, from a book of hours in Latin and French.Featuring a superb miniature and a sumptuous border, the present John on Patmos leaf is nothing short of exquisite, and although the nine leaves from the same manuscript are all fine in their own way, this first one is the best.


Illuminated manuscript A Dream of Fair Women by Alfred Lord Tennyson
A Dream of Fair Women
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

1910 - Manuscript on vellum, in disciplined calligraphic hand in black and red ink to recto and verso. Centre panel of upper board blocked in gilt in an elaborate and detailed floral design with red onlays and inset with 5 garnet cabochons and 6 turquoise cabochons.  The prestigious London bindery Sangorski and Sutcliffe made a speciality of fabulous jeweled bindings.

A selection from the poems of Henry Longfellow
A selection from the poems of Henry Longfellow

1884 - Illuminated manuscript engrossed on 12 leaves of vellum. Written in English and beautifully embellished with wide borders on each page, initials and other decorations in color and gold. Bound by Sangorski & Sutcliffe in full red levant, wide inner red levant borders, gilt-tooled back and sides, extra tooled sides Legascon style, lettered on spine and center front cover, gilt edges. Preserved in a cloth slipcase.

Text from the Opening of the Office of the Dead
Text from the Opening of the Office of the Dead

1460 - Apart from those relatively few copies with illustrated calendars, the miniatures found in Books of Hours are almost entirely devoted to retrospective Bible scenes that are obviously outside the experience of the illuminator; it is only in the present kind of funeral scene at the beginning of the Office of the Dead that we can see a contemporaneous rendering of a scene from the daily life of the Middle Ages.


All the Works of John Taylor
All the Works of John Taylor


1630 - Six volumes bound in half leather with marble paper covered boards. Exquisitely illustrated with woodcut engravings, head and tail pieces and illuminated letters. Very scarce. These volumes contain no title page and have been bound out of sequence.


Learn more about Illuminated Manuscripts:

French Miniatures from Illuminated Manuscripts by Jean Porcher
French Miniatures From Illuminated Manuscripts
Jean Porcher

1960 - General survey of French illuminated manuscripts of the 10th to 15th centuries. Includes 90 tipped-in color plates, 90 black and white illustrations in text and an additional 4 tipped-in color plates in text. Scholarly text with gorgeous, gorgeous illustrations.

The Art of Illuminated Manuscripts: Illustrated Sacred Writings by J.O. Westwood
The Art of Illuminated Manuscripts
J.O. Westwood

1988 - a series of illustrations of the ancient versions of the bible, copied from illuminated manuscripts, between the fourth and 16th centuries. Originally published under the title 'Palaeographia Sacra Pictoria' by William Smith, Fleet St., London, 1843-5.

A History of Illuminated Manuscripts by Christopher De Hamel
A History of Illuminated Manuscripts
Christopher De Hamel

1997 - From the earliest monastic Gospel Books to textbooks, secular romances, Books of Hours and classical texts. Fundamental questions discussed - who wrote the books, text they contained, who read them, how they were made, what purposes they served.

Later Gothic Manuscripts 1390-1490 by Kathleen L. Scott
Later Gothic Manuscripts 1390-1490
Kathleen L. Scott

1996 - A survey of manuscripts illuminated in the British Isles, complete in two volumes. This publication covers the very large body of material that survives from the Romanesque period, a time of intense creativity. Clothbound. A fine bright copy with 760 illustrations.
Gothic Illuminated Manuscripts by Emma Pirani
Gothic Illuminated Manuscripts
Emma Pirani


1970 - A wonderful treatment of Europe's beautiful Gothic manuscripts, this first edition, first printing is a fine, clean and tight copy, profusely illustrated throughout with 69 full-color reproductions.Binding is gray boards, with bright gilt lettering to the spine.

Have you ever seen or handled an illuminated manuscript?


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