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Illuminations of the twelfth century are more 
easily distinguished than those of any other period. 
Manuscripts of an immense size were then produced, 
and the principal capital letters were frequently from 
twelve to eighteen inches in length, and sometimes 
longer, occupying, in fact, the greater part of the page 
on which they appear. Simplicity, elegance, and ac- 
curacy of drawing were their leading characteristics. 
*They were usually formed of continuous or interlacing 
bands, or scrolls, terminat- 
ing in conventional foliage 
and flowers, commonly pro- 
ceeding from the mouth of 
a dragon or oth- 
er monster, and 
sometimes from 
a human mask. 
Two distinct 
modes of treat- 
ment were em- 
ployed on the 
borders and in- 
itial letters of 
this time. In 
the one, the out- 
lines are all red, 
and the details 
rounded by fine 
delicate lines of 
the same color 
the whole being 
relieved by backgrounds of 
blue, green, and yellow. The 
letter H on this page is an 

close of the century, in double columns, on vellum, in 
the large characters which about that time began to be 
used, and which form the link between the round open 


example of this style of art. In the other, these bands, 
branches, and flowers were colored in gradations of 
the richest tints, heightened on the outer 'edge with 
pure white, and made distinct by a bold black outline. 
The ground was sometimes formed of various colors 
almost equally distributed, sometimes partially of gold, 
and often wholly so. Occasionally the figure of the 
prophet, apostle, or historian of the text following is 
introduced, commonly having a scroll in his right hand 
bearing an inscription. It is worthy of remark that the 
figures introduced at this time into manuscripts show a 
great advance over preceding ones, both in drawing 
and coloring ; though still quaint in style, the heads are 
remarkable for sincere and truthful expression, and the 
draperies for the broad and simple arrangement of 
their folds, and the sober and harmonious character of 
the tints employed on them. 

Among the present examples extant of twelfth century- 
illumination are those contained in three enormous vol- 
umes in the British Museum. The work is a Passion- 
ale, or collection of lives of saints, written toward the 


etter of the preceding century and a half, and the square 
or Gothic letter of a later period. From the great num- 
ber of German saints introduced into these volumes and 
from the legend of Count Ludovic, 
inserted at the close of the second, 
we may conclude that the work 
was written for the monastery of 
Arnstein, on the river Lahn, about 
a mile above Coblentz, in which 
monastic house, as appears by a 
memorandum at the end of the 
last volume, it was still preserved 
in 1464. 

An example of nearly the same 
period and style as this Fassionale 
is the copy of a Bible in the British 
Museum, in the Vulgate version, 
comprised in two very large folio 
volumes, and written on vellum in 
double columns. The illuminated 
letters prefixed to each book are 
more richly colored and more 
highly finished than those found 
in the former. Prefixed to the 
first is the Epistle of Jerome to 
Paulinus, with a full-length figure 
of the writer sitting at a desk, 
while a monk holds out an inkhorn 
to him. In the first book of Kings 
are also introduced interesting il- 
lustrations of costume in the fig- 
ures of Goliath in chain mail and 
of Saul destroying himself. The 
second volume commences with 
the Psalter, the initial letter of which is magnificently 
executed, and the New Testament is embellished with 
figures of the Apostles.' 

From the 
end of this 
books be- 
came re- 
duced in 
size , and 
their con- 
tents exhib- 
ited a simi- 
lar diminu- 
tion in all 
their decora- 
tive features. 
The princi- 
pal capital letters were commonly inclosed within 
square frames, at the angles and along the sides of 
which were frequently placed medallions, the one half 

encroaching upon the border within, and the other on 
the plain margin without. These medallions contained 
figures of prophets, saints, minstrels playing on various 
instruments, or other illustrations of the text to follow. 
Between the outer ornamental border and the letter 
the ground, of a dark color, usually blue, was elabo- 
rately diapered. The letter itself was composed of the 
most delicate and intricate interlacing of small bands of 
light brown, green, and blue, alternately. These bands 
commenced with the heads of snakes or fanciful rep- 
tiles, from which small leaves occasionally projected, 
and terminated in full bunches of foliage. Entangled 
in these folds are found dogs, rabbits, squirrels, and 
other animals, most carefully drawn and in every con- 
ceivable attitude. These, like the figures in the medal- 
lions, are on raised and burnished gold grounds. All 
these details are surrounded by a clear 
and intensely black outline, evidently 
composed of lampblack and gum. 

During the thirteenth century sever- 
al important changes took place in the 
art of illumination. In the beginning 
of it, highly burnished gold, on raised 
grounds, came into general use as the 
backgrounds, both to figures and or- 
naments, in lieu of the more simple 
application of leaf gold, found in ear- 
lier books. At the same time the deli- 
cate material called uterine vellum be- 
gan to be employed, and on its exqui- 
sitely smooth and even surface the 
scribes produced writing frequently so 
minute that to decipher it the aid of a 
glass becomes necessary. This writ- 
ing was as remarkable for its beauty and accuracy as 
for its microscopic character; another peculiarity in 
the small figures found 
in manuscripts in the 
latter part of this and 
during the following 
century is the marvel- 
lous fineness of the lines 
by which the features of 
the face are shown ; as 
these are without any 
gradation to indicate 
light and shade, and, as 
the faces are only slight- 
ly tinted or left alto- 
gether free from color, 
they mark a distinct 
style in art. These lines 
are frequently drawn 
with wonderful truth, 
beauty, and propriety of 
expression, while the 
hair is varied with 
stronger lines massed 
in flowing curls. A very 
bold and elegant style 
of ornamentation, in the 
fifteenth century, was 
employed on the mar- 
gins of manuscripts, in 
which the foliage sur- 
rounding them was 
made to grow out of 
the body of the capital 
letter commencing the 
text, or at the beginning 
of a chapter in any part 


9 ^SL 




of the page. Decorations of this character are found 
in perfection m English books. The letter R with text 
on the opposite page, and the portion of a border on 



page 36, are favorable examples of these peculiarities. 
The letter and text are taken from a large folio Bible in 
the British Museum, measuring twenty-four inches in 
height by fourteen inches in width. It is profusely en- 
riched with illuminations. The commencement of each 
book has a marginal border, surrounding and dividing 
the text into columns, and containing a large initial, 
sometimes composed of foliage. 



Nearly all the periods of illuminating were charac- 
terized by peculiar styles of coloring. In many works 
the colors are treated flat, with- 
out any attempt to give a raised 
effect. The ornaments 
of this style are usu- I 
ally executed on 
the vellum alone, 
without any 
ground color. In 
others, a relieved 
effect is given to 
the ornamental 
details by shad- 
ows. In illuminations 
of this school, the en- 
richments are gener- 
ally worked upon aj 
ground of gold or col- 1 
or. In illuminations | 
of the thirteenth, four- 
teenth, and fifteenth 
centuries, white line- j 
work upon color was I 
largely used. In the 
party - colored initials 
and ornaments of the 
fourteenth century, a 
white line generally 
divided the colors, 
which were at times 
outlined with black. 
Beautiful surface dec- 
oration was executed 
in white upon the 
various rich ornaments 
of the thirteenth cen- 
tury and early four- 

In shading leaf- 
work, the illuminator 
must use the harmo- 1 
nies ; such as the deep- 
er tones of the color 
employed to ground 
the leaf, or those col- 
ors nearest to it on the | 
color circle. For in- 
stance, if the leaf be 
light blue, it should be 
shaded with dark blue; 
if normal blue, with 
blue running to pur- 
ple. If red, it should 
be shaded with the 
tones of crimson (red| 
purple) running to! 
purple as before. The 
reverse side of the ' 
leaves, or turnovers, 
should be colored with 

the full contrasting color of the leaf proper. For in- 
stance, if the leaf be blue, shaded with dark blue or 
purple, the turnover should be orange, shaded with 
scarlet running to crimson. Leaves may be lighted up 
. with delicate hatchings in gold, white, or very light 
colors. The deepest shadows may be executed with 
hatching in black. 

Blue, the primary of the first importance, should ever 
be most largely used in all works of decorative art. 
Its perfect contrasting color is orange ; and its most 
perfect harmonies are those tones of itself produced 
by its admixture with white or black. 

Red, the second primary, has green for its contrasting 
color ; and all the scales of oranges and crimsons for 
its harmonies. 

Yellow, the primary of most light and power, has 

purple for its contrast, and the compounds of itself with 
white, and the scale of oranges for its perfect harmonies. 

These colors, therefore, cannot be used together in 
juxtaposition with injurious effect. 

Green, the contrasting color of red, should be spar- 
ingly used in illuminating, being a lighting-up color. It 
must never be employed for its own value, but only 
from its power on other tints, which it lights up, or 
gives vigor to. in an extraordinary degree. 

Gold takes the place of yellow in the perfect group of 
the three primaries with great success; and perhaps noth- 
ing is more commonly seen in nearly all departments of 
decorative art than the triplet — blue, red, and gold. 

Gray may be introduced into almost any combination 
of colors, and forms a beautiful harmony as- 
sociated with brilliant hues of blue and crimson. 

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The student, while studying this department of art, 
should experiment with numerous combinations of 
colors, taking note of those which prove most pleasing 
for future use. A collection of combinations of colors, 
made and preserved in a small scrap book, would prove 
of value for the sake of reference. 

The student is recommended not to overdo his orna- 
mental portions, for one is apt to think that the text is 
secondary to the illumination, and not that the illumi- 
nation is intended to decorate the text. A rather large 
margin adds greatly to the beauty of the illumination, 
and never fails to increase its effect and importance. 

The initial letter should not be too large in itself or 
in its detail, for it will outweigh the border and text : 
this is to be avoided if possible. 

The illuminators of old loved to expend their great- 

est energies in the ornamentation of their initial letters ; 
and we advise the student also to bestow great care 
upon those he introduces into his illuminations. The 
letters may be placed upon solid panels of gold or colors, 
or surrounded with rich masses of delicate line work, 
as may be observed in some fourteenth century MSS. 

The letters themselves may be executed in various 
ways. This depends greatly, of course, on the period 
of illumination the student has selected to work after. 
The thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth century 
schools are the best adapted to modern use and require- 

Miniature subjects, scroll and leaf-work, or diaper- 
ing, may be used to fill up the centre of the initials. If 
miniatures are anywhere introduced, they must have 
immediate reference to the subject of the text. 

There are several 
ways in which a bor- 
der may be composed : 
it may be made to 
entirely surround the 
text, placed upon a 
background of gold or 
color ; it may extend 
only round three or 
two sides, or it may be 
confined to one only. 

Of all these, the 
complete border is the 
richest, and is the form 
most generally to be 
found in the MSS. of 
the fourteenth cen- 

All the lines em- 
ployed in design must 
be flowing and grace- 
ful ; a great deal of 
the beauty of an illu- 
mination depends upon 
this. Nothing is more 
offensive to the eye 
than a broken outline 
or scroll. 

The illuminator 
must not overcrowd 
his composition, for 
he will gain little by 
crowding ornament at 
all. He must seek af- 
ter repose, simplicity, 
and elegance. 

No ornament or de- 
tail must be executed 
carelessly ; each leaf 
and bud, however 
small or insignificant, 
should be finished as 
if it were the only or- 
nament on the page. 
The student need nev- 
er hope to attain emi- 
nence in his art unless 
each thing he does is 
done with his whole 
might. One who 
would become in 
truth an illuminator 
must not for one mo- 
ment think that weeks 
or months will termi- 
nate his study. If it 
did, the charm which 
dwells with the art would be of short duration, instead 
of increasing, as it ever does, day by day continually. 
That person is no illuminator who for a time takes up 
the instruments of the art, to execute a book-mark for 
a friend, or to adorn some lady's album with gold and 
color, and then consigns them to their case until some 
like occasion prompts their use. How different is he, 
the true illuminator, who toils, yet knows it not, day 
after day, in every spare hour, and through the night 
far into the hours of morning, for love of the art itself ; 
who wanders abroad among the works of Nature that 
he may derive new inspiration ; who bears home to his 
quiet studio plants and flowers, and converts their 
beautiful forms into the delicate designs which are to 
adorn the labors of his hands, careless whether other 
eyes see them or not ! Such a man has the true spirit. 

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