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A Primer of the Art of Illumination for the Use of Beginners With a rudimentary treatise on the art, practical directions for its exercise, and examples taken from illuminated mss.

A Primer of the Art of Illumination for the Use of Beginners
With a rudimentary treatise on the art, practical directions for its exercise, and examples taken from illuminated mss.
Category: Specimens
Title: A Primer of the Art of Illumination for the Use of Beginners With a rudimentary treatise on the art, practical directions for its exercise, and examples taken from illuminated mss.
Release Date: 2018-07-02
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 38
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Book Cover.

The Art of Illumination

For the Use of Beginners;




London:—E. & F. N. SPON,




Preface  v.
History, Definition, and Characteristics of Illumination vii.
Reference to Specimens at the British Museum xxvii.
Practical Directions xxxii.
Colours xxxiii.
Appendix xliv.
Monograms: 7th and 8th centuries i.
From the Bible of Charles the Bald, 9th century ii.
From a Bible, 12th century iii.
Opus Anglicum iv.
Hours of S. Louis v.
Les Merveilles du Monde, 1409 vi.
Chronicles of England, Edward IV. vii.
Hours of Henry VII. viii.
Hours of Anne of Brittany ix.
14th and 15th centuries—Initials x.
   Ditto xi.
Italian Initials xii.
Outlines of the above xiii. to xx.
Decorative design.

[Pg v]




As the taste for illumination continuesto spread, the want of an elementary work on the art becomes moreand more keenly felt. Persons possessed of real artistic skillturn their attention to it, and after designing and executing workwhich, according to all the rules of art known to them, ought toproduce a correct and pleasing result, are amazed at the ungainlyconglomeration which is the reward of their labour. The secret ofthis is, they are unacquainted with the fundamental principles ofthe art. Others, setting to work in a safer way, place before them aspecimen of mediæval illuminating work, and endeavour to produce anaccurate copy of it; they too are amazed at finding that, after allthe pains bestowed on it, their copy has an effect so different fromthat of the original. The secret of this is, they are unacquaintedwith the peculiar method of manipulating the colours, &c. used inilluminating. What both need is, elementary instruction in—first—theprinciples; and, secondly—the practice of the art.[Pg vi]

It is to supply this want that the ‘Primer of Illumination’has been conceived. It contains just so much instruction on thehistory and principles of the art, as may serve to fix on certaindefinite bases, the wandering and somewhat hazy notions of people onthe subject, and enable them, by reference to good examples, to erecttheir own superstructure on a certain foundation; and just so muchinstruction in the practical part of the art as may enable them, in agreat measure, to teach themselves how to practise it. Advice is alsogiven on the selection and purchase of colours, instruments, &c., and aprogressive set of studies, printed both in outline and in the propercolours, and gold, is added to furnish models for copying.

Incidentally, an effort has been made to correct a few of the prevalentpopular errors on the subject—such, for instance, as that everyilluminated service book is a ‘missal,’ and so forth—and which errorsstand sorely in the way of the beginner’s right comprehension of thesubject.

All the examples selected have been taken from undoubted authorities,and will be recognized by persons acquainted with mediæval books.

Decorative design.

[Pg 7]


Part I.


In a work of a merely practical characteranything like a critical or historical dissertation on the art ofillumination would of course be out of place. The growing or ratherreviving taste in this and neighbouring countries which has during thelast twenty or thirty years brought to light such vast treasures ofmediæval art, which had lain for three centuries buried under a heapof pseudo-classical rubbish, has elicited amongst its most pleasingfeatures a host of works on illumination which, without exhausting asubject which is inexhaustible, have at least contributed largely toplace this beautiful art on its proper pedestal, and investigate anddevelope the rules by which it is governed. These works are of courseof different pretensions and varying beauty, though of the majorityit may fairly be alleged that they are magnificent and brilliantspecimens of typography, and that the research and ability displayed intheir contents are fully equal to the beauty of their illustrations.From such works the history of the rise and progress, the culminationand decadence of the art may be easily traced, and a catena ofcharacteristics constructed. The principal defect exhibited by almostall these works is that their (necessarily) large price places them outof the reach of all but the wealthy, and it may be added that even whenaccess can be obtained to them they are found to contain no practicaldirections for cultivating and practising the art of which they treat.[Pg 8]

It is the object of this little work to supply this deficiency, toplace within every one’s reach just the sort of information andinstruction which a master might be supposed to give his pupil, and toenable persons with a taste for illuminating to answer for themselvesthe universally-asked question, “How am I to set about it?”


What illumination really is, or rather what is and what is notillumination, in the strict sense of the word, it is not so easy todefine as might be supposed. Define it as ornamental letter writing;but every ornamental letter is not necessarily an illuminatedone—witness our shop fronts for instance. Illumination is extending,it is true, to them, and has been employed in some instances withmarked success: but a mere tyro can select two specimens, and saywithout a moment’s hesitation which is and which is not illumination,and yet it would puzzle an experienced illuminator to define logicallythe difference. It is not however so material to hunt for definitions,as by acquaintance and experience to acquire such a general knowledgeof its leading characteristics as will enable the mind to arrive atthat by instinct, which it is difficult to do by definition. For mostpurposes it may perhaps suffice to define it as a peculiar system ofornamenting manuscript or letterpress, which leaves the body of thematter intact, or only fills up the hiatus at the ends of paragraphs,bestows on the initial letter or letters an ornamentation more orless elaborate and profuse, extends that ornamentation along the topand down the left side of the matter, or still further extending,envelopes the whole in a sort of framework of colour, gilding, &c.This description will do for addresses, charters, scroll work and thelike, as well as for what have ever afforded the greatest scope forillumination—books.[1][Pg 9]

It has been announced already that there is no intention of introducinginto this work a dissertation on the history of illumination. It ishowever essential to the successful study of the art, even in its mostmoderate form, to obtain some general notion of its rise and progress,and of the sort of works, and of what dates to look into, for the bestand most characteristic specimens. In furnishing a key to this portionof the study, we propose to avail ourselves, by way of illustration, ofspecimens, accessible to all without charge, namely, those displayed inthe glass cases of the king’s library, and adjoining manuscript saloonat the British Museum.

Where, when, and how the idea of ornamenting writings first sprung intoexistence, is as immaterial as it is difficult to discover. It is thefashion to ascribe its origin, in common with that of many other artsand sciences, to the East; and indeed, the presence at the Museum ofseveral beautiful specimens of oriental illuminated MSS. would appearto denote a very high condition of the art in Persia and Hindostanat an early date; but in reality it is not improbable that the artwas springing into existence simultaneously, or nearly so, in severalparts of the world at once. The styles of the oriental illuminationalready alluded to, of the ancient Byzantine, of the early Roman,and the Hibernian, are fundamentally dissimilar, and probably cameinto existence independently of each other. It is from the last-namedcountry—Ireland—then far in advance of all neighbouring lands incivilization and learning, that it seems most probable England firstreceived the art. History informs us of what was done for the theninhabitants of this country by missionary monks from the island ofSt. Patrick, and there can be no doubt they would bring their servicebooks, or at least the art of writing them, along with them, and sospread the knowledge of their art side by side with that of theirreligion; and it is remarkable that one of the earliest, if not theearliest specimens of the art of illumination extant in this country,is a copy of the Gospels made for Macbrid Mac Dernan, in (as is[Pg 10]supposed) the year 885, and now to be found in the library at LambethPalace. The style of this very early age of the art is quaint buthighly characteristic. It shares with the Byzantine a severity andsimplicity of outline, and an intricacy of interlacing in the details,which are very striking—one specimen in our first page of examples, itmay be added, is taken from this curious work.

Once in England the Hibernian element would naturally meet, minglewith, and finally be absorbed in the ever-progressing and improvingtide of taste setting in from the Continent, or spontaneously springingout of the varying developments of art and science in Englanditself. We are not therefore surprised to find—and this must everbe borne in mind—that the science of architecture and the sisterarts of illuminating, metal working, wood carving, embroidery, andperhaps we may add fresco painting, passed on hand in hand

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