“Sly half-beasts prowling through red blooms…” Anna Welch on illuminated manuscripts in Materiality: PRECIOUS

“Curling fronds of bluish green, pink tendrils flicking round golden orbs, sly half-beasts prowling through red blooms, lewd antics in the margins round pale-lipped madonnas and rainbow-winged seraphs…”

In Materiality: PRECIOUS historian and curator Anna Welch examines the role of the illuminated manuscript in medieval society. Expensive to produce and often lavishly illustrated with gold and pigments, did those who owned such books “search for beauty rather than real truth”, as held by the Franciscan Durand of Champagne? Or was the creation and contemplation of such books a way of communing with God, as beauty is inseparable from divinity?

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An artist mixes his colours, preparing to decorate a manuscript. London, British Library. Royal 6 E. VI, f. 329.

An artist mixes his colours, preparing to decorate a manuscript. London, British Library. Royal 6 E. VI, f. 329.