I’ve spent a lot of time talking about illustration and other elaborate decoration, so today, I want to focus on pages with a lot of text. After all, the content of a book comes before everything else. I also decided to look into the British Library’s amazing collection of manuscripts, since I’ve featured the Metropolitan Museum’s holdings for the past two days.
This page from the Proverbs section of a German manuscript called the Arnstein Bible (BL. Harley MS 2799, f.57v) combines text and illustration in a really interesting way. I love the way that the writing and the image form complementary triangular shapes on the right-hand side of the page.
The image above is from an unfinished gospel book from the Netherlands. The pages are so elegant, yet simple and clearly legible. The sketched-out initials call to mind stained glass windows, and I imagine that they would have been richly colored if completed. The generous margins and space between lines also add to the pages’ aesthetic appeal.
The above page is from a fifteenth-century bible from Italy. The text is in Hebrew, and it is very beautiful. It’s amazing to think that copious amounts of such tiny, precise, artfully-laid-out writing were produced by hand and without magnification or even probably decent lighting.
To see more beautiful manuscripts, visit the British Library’s online “Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts”. Some of the standouts are also reproduced in de Hamel, Christopher. The British Library Guide to Manuscript Illumination: History and Techniques. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001. I used de Hamel’s book to quickly find some of my favorite examples to include in this post.