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Chapter 3 - A Symbiotic Relationship : Codices and Manuscript Books

A page from Lindisfarne Gospels, circa 715 AD. The Lindisfarne Gospels are attributed to be the work of a monk named Eadfrith of Lindisfarne, who later became Bishop of Lindisfarne and died in 721. (3) It is believed the gospels were produced in honour of Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. These incorporates highly decorated illustrations in a detached form, and were originally encased in a fine leather binding covered with jewels and metals made by Billfrith the Anchorite in the 8th century. However, during the Viking raids on Lindisfarne the original cover was lost, and a replacement made in 1852.(4)
Throughout their histories a symbiotic relationship has existed between the book and graphic design.  The modern form of the book which appeared around the second century AD is called the codexThe codex of Middle Ages,  were manuscript written on either papyrus or parchment, vellummade from animal skins, and sewn together into a modern book format.  The writing surface of the early illustrated codices were  parchments . Gradually in Europe and the Middle East, parchments replaced papyrus for production of the codex and remained the preferred media in Europe for the next 800 years when the mass production of paper gradually replaced them. The  ancient graphic designers worked in the European monasteries, creating harmonious and balanced layouts for  textual materials and illustrations that were to based on a sophisticated grid system designed to facilitate a spiritual communication of creed.

Paper which was invented in China around 105 AD, was at first prepared from bark and hemp. These were not quite suitable for drawing and decoration. Although, paper produced by the Chinese technology was of a high standard. This technology was transferred to Japan around 610 AD, and then to the Arab world via Samarkand in Central Asia. In America, the Aztec and Mayan civilizations also produced a more primitive bark paper from an unknown date.

In Europe paper was introduced by Arab traders of Spain. Italy was the first European country that produced paper around 1276 AD, and more than two and half centuries later England began to produce it in 1495. The primary reason for this slow pace was the low quality of these papers which were unsuited for graphic design of European religious manuscripts.1 Among these early European manuscripts are the Bibles that have been created in the monasteries of Ireland, Scotland, and England. Many of graphic decorations in these books have been influenced by the Arabesque style of Muslim manuscripts that employed mainly geometrical and abstract designs for decorating their holy books and their mosques.

Medieval styles of  the Hiberno-Saxon in Ireland and England  the most famous examples of which are Irish illustrated manuscripts like the Book of Durrow (c.650-680) and the Book of Kells (c.800),  were influenced by the decorative style of the Coptic manuscripts of Egypt, which afterwards spread in Kildare, Clonmacnois, Clonfert, and Monasterboice in Ireland,  Iona in Scotland and  Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumbria in England  in the seventh and eighth centuries.  In their visual grammar  numerous decorative embellishments, of either abstract or representational art were used in conjunction with historiated letters, Celtic crosses, trumpet ornaments, rhombuses, pictures of birds and animals, to create an attractive layout.

The prefaces to each chapter, were called carpet pages, which were a composition of intricate set of geometric or Celtic interlace designs, that allowed artists some degrees of freedom to express his individuality. Over the next few centuries these manuscripts style were followed by the Carolingian, Ottonian and Byzantine styles, and culminated by a number of elegant Romanesque illuminated manuscripts (c.1000-1150), such as the St Albans Psalter, the Bible of St Benigne, the Egbert Psalter, the Winchester Bible and the Moralia Manuscript.

Later on, artists like Jean Pucelle produced the finest Gothic illuminated manuscripts (1150-1350), including The Belleville Breviary (1323-26, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris) and The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux (1324-28, The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art), as well as other works such as: the Psalter of St Louis, the Bible Moralisee, the Minnesanger Manuscript, the Amesbury Psalter, and Queen Mary's Psalter. They were followed, during the era of International Gothic illuminations, by masterpieces such as the Brussels Hours, by Jacquemart de Hesdin (c.1355-1414); Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (1413, Musee Conde, Chantilly) by the Limbourg Brothers (fl.1390-1416); and works by the great French artist Jean Fouquet (1420-81)

The Court School of Charlemagne (also known as the Ada School) produced the earliest manuscripts, including the Ada Gospels. The Ada Gospels is a late eighth century or early ninth century Carolingian Gospel Book. The manuscript contains a dedication to Charlemagne's sister Ada, whence it gets its name.The Court School manuscripts were ornate, elegant, dramatic, and evocative of 6th century ivories and mosaics from Ravenna, Italy.

In the early 9th century Archbishop Ebo of Rheims, at Hautvillers (near Rheims), assembled artists and transformed Carolingian art to something which evoked a revival of Roman classicism. However, it still kept its characteristics of basically linear presentation, with no concern for volume and spatial relationships. The style was reminiscent of the Merovingian and Hiberno-Saxon traditions known as the art of the Migration Period . The Gospels were painted with energetic, bright and vivid brush strokes, evoking an inspiration and energy unknown in classical Mediterranean forms.   

The Book of Kells is the most famous, and one of the finest, of a group of manuscripts in what is known as the Insular style, produced from the late 6th through the early 9th centuries in the British monasteries (6). The graphic decorations are all high quality and often very complex. In one decoration, which occupies a one-inch square piece of a page, there are 158 complex interlaces of white ribbon with a black border on either side.

Such designs are scattered throughout the text with decorated initials and small figures of animals and humans often twisted and tied into complicated knots and many of them serve to fill spaces left at the end of lines. Many significant texts, such as the Pater Noster have decorated initials. No earlier surviving manuscript has this massive amount of decoration.

The Book of Durrow, a 7th-century illuminated manuscript made either at Durrow Abbey in Ireland, or in Northumbria in Northern England has a complex graphic design. There is a sense of space in the layout of all its pages. Open vellum balances intensely decorated areas. Animal interlace of very high quality appears on some folios . Other motifs include spirals, triskeles, ribbon plaits and circular knots in the carpet pages and borders around the Evangelists.

The first letter of the text is enlarged and decorated, with the following letters surrounded by dots.
The monks who endowed the Book of Durrow with their calligraphic art and decorative designwork can be regarded as being among the earliest Irish artists of the medieval period. The Gospel manuscript itself exemplifies the style known as Hiberno-Saxon or Ultimate La Tene, which was widely practised across the British Isles and Ireland.  
We discuss the layout of the manuscripts in chapter 55

Commentary on the Apocalypse, Adam and Eve, Original Sin.  This commentary was popular during the Middle Ages and survives in over 30 manuscripts (usually called Beatus) from the 10th through the 13th century, published in 776 by Beatus of Liebana (730 -798, Spanish monk and theologian). Royal Library, El Escorial, Spain.

The surviving European illuminated manuscripts, particularly those of Ireland and Italy that are created by mostly monastic scribes of late antiquity, with their decorated initials, borders and miniatures constitute the inception of the modern graphic design. Scriptoria were workshops devoted to the hand-lettered copying of manuscripts. A scriptorium was most often an extension of a library for the professional scribes to copy manuscripts. The scribes were working under the direction of an armarius or a scrittori, who acted as an art director. He was director of a monastic scriptorium, who provided the scribes with their materials and ensured the quality of the process. Decorations and illuminations were added by other resident artists.

The Holkham Bible Picture Book. The creation of the animals. The Creator among his animals. There are seven kinds of trees, with the vine emerging from God's halo.The animals include a lion, elephant, and unicorn. The birds are carefully studied; some are shown flying, some like the owl perch on trees, and others by the water. There are two fishes, apparently pike.  England; C. 1320-1330.  The British Library, London, Great Britain

Illuminated manuscripts are classified according to their historic periods and types, such as
Insular script: a script characterized by thick initial strokes and heavy shading developed from half uncial under the influence of uncial by Irish scribes about the 5th and 6th centuries a.d. and used in England until the Norman conquest and in Ireland with modifications to the present day.
Cubierta del libro del biccherna de Siena (1343) The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram, Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 14000

Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram, Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek,  

Eastern Orthodox icon of All Saints, c. 1700. Christ is enthroned in heaven surrounded by the ranks of angels and saints. At the bottom is Paradise with the "Bosom of Abraham"

The Cover of  Carolingian Gospel Codex Aureus of Sankt Emmeram. Made in ca. 870 at the Palace of Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald. Emperor Charles the Bald donated it to Arnulf of Carinthia who donated it to the Sankt Emmeram Abbey.

Codex Aureus Gnesnensis - Chrystus umywa stopy Piotra - fragment

Christine de Pisan (Italia-1364, Francia 1430)

Codex Aureus Gnesnensis - Chrystus umywa stopy 

Codex Aureus Gnesnensis - św. Mateusz - fragment

Merovingian script: is the writing of the pre-Carolingian hands of France that were derived from Latin cursive script. Luxeuil, in Burgundy, was a particularly important centre in the development of a Merovingian cursive style during the 7th and 8th centuries. The style of script that developed in northern France at the monastery of Corbie, a daughter house of Luxeuil, is especially noteworthy for the influence of half-uncial and uncial. Merovingian writing is interesting to paleographers because of the part it had in shaping the black-letter script that was prevalent in the Middle Ages. Like Visigothic script, the Merovingian hands inherited the dominant vertical rhythm of the Latin cursive script of the ancient Romans. Angularity as a prevailing tendency and an effect of lateral crowding, especially in the first lines of a Merovingian manuscript, led to the use of the term picket- fence style by some 20th-century scholars of calligraphy.

Folio 144 of the Lectionary of Luxeuil, manuscript Lat. 9427, at the National Library of France, written in the Luxeuil type. The folio's content consists of Acts 5:17-25. 


The illuminations, miniatures and historiated initials represent a high point of late Merovingian book art and the script represents an excellent example of early Carolingian minuscule. It is, as Bischoff states: “A demonstration of what richness in initial forms and motifs a virtuoso and imaginatively inspired late-eighth-century miniaturist could employ...”

This classic leaf from the Sacramentaire de Gellone (Gellone Sacramentary) shows the crucified Christ attended by two angels. The angels are singing the sanctus (directly above the image in red) and the cross forms an elaborate historiated T, the beginning of Te igitur, the eucharistic prayer which asks for Jesus’ blessing of the offering. So the image integrates with the text and visually separates the prayers. A masterful design.


The Roman scripts of the fourth century evolved over the next several hundred years into many different regional styles, e.g.: Roman cursive minuscule became Insular Majuscule in Ireland and England, or Merovingian and Luxeuil minuscules in France, or Lombardic and Beneventan minuscules in Southern Italy, or Visigothic minuscule in Spain, or Germanic minuscule in Germany, etc. The point is that by the eight century the situation was a mess5 and this, not surprisingly, proved rather problematic for Charlemagne’s administration of his Frankish empire. To rectify this situation Charlemagne, in his 789 Admonitio Generalis, set new standards for copying texts, including the adoption of a new more uniform and more legible script to replace the various, and often nearly illegible, regional styles. This script, Carolingian (or Caroline) minuscule, was based on the Merovingian and Germanic scripts and the Roman half-uncials and featured an uncial d, a modern a and g, and clubbed ascenders.

Carolingian manuscripts: These manuscripts were mainly created by clerics in a few workshops around the Carolingian Empire. Each of these workshops practiced its own style that developed based on the artists and influences of that particular location and time. As the earliest producer of Carolingian manuscripts, the Court School of Charlemagne initiated a revival of Roman classicism, yet still maintained Migration Period art (Merovingian and Insular) traditions in their linear presentation, with no concern for volume and spatial relationships. The Utrecht Psalter was perhaps the most important of all Carolingian manuscripts, because of its innovative and naturalistic figurine line drawings, which were to become the most influential innovation of Carolingian art on later periods.

Carolingian. Manuscript from St. Gall. Book of Matthew. c.800
Lorsch Gospels 778–820. Charlemagne's Court School.

Sv. Marek Kodex Aureus, Lorsch

The interior of a Lorsch Gospels facsimile

David & Goliath - Carolingian miniature folio-158v

Ottonian manuscripts: The finest achievements of Ottonian illumination are connnected with the patronage of Egbert, Archbishop of Trier (977-93), and the Imperial court. The origin of this interrelated series of illuminated manuscripts has long been connected with the Imperial monastery of Reichenau, believed to have been the seat of the chancellery of the Emperors, but it has been argued more recently that most of the manuscripts were produced at Trier. What is quite clear is that the scriptorium worked both for Egbert and for the Emperors Otto II (973-83), Otto III (996-1002), and even on until the reign of Henry II (1002-24), and that it should be seen first and foremost as an Imperial scriptorium. One of the manuscripts of this closely interrelated group of masterpieces of book illustration - a gospel lectionary which sets out the readings from the gospels throughout the liturgical year, known as the Egbert Codex.

The Art of the Book Ottonian manuscripts, Germany, 10th and 11th centuries

Illuminated Manuscript, Book of Hours, St. George, Walters Manuscript W.168, fol. 217v
This fine illuminated Book of Hours was produced in two stages in the second and third quarters of the fifteenth century. The manuscript contains eleven full-page miniatures and twenty historiated initials. The first stage of production includes a section attributed to the Masters of Zweder van Culemborg and the calendar (fols. 3r-14v, 52v-211v), while additional prayers illustrated in the style of the workshop of Willem Vrelant were added later in the fifteenth century (fols. 16r-50v, 213r-223r), presumably when the book was bound in its present binding. The Hours of the Virgin is for the Use of Rome. The Use of the Office of the Dead is unidentified, but the calendar is for the Use of Utrecht. The two separate parts of the manuscript were bound together in Flanders. The sections of W.168 attributed to the Masters of Zweder van Culemborg have been compared to Utrecht, Utrecht University Ms. 1037; Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum James Ms. 141; the second hand in New York, Pierpont Morgan Library Ms. M.87; Stockholm, Royal Library A 226, and Philadelphia, Free Library Lewis Ms. 88.

13th Century The Morgan Crusader Bible Morgan Crusader Bible  Pierpont Morgan Library. Manuscript. M.638.[facsimile] Die Kreuzritterbibel = The Morgan Crusader Bible = La Bible des croisades. Luzern : Faksimile Verlag ; New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, c1998-c1999. BS 715.5 C7 1998 Special Colllections Vault
The Morgan Crusader Bible was originally a Picture Bible without text created for and likely commissioned by Louis IX, the crusader king of France (1226-1270). It presented Old Testament history with an emphasis on holy war and kingship. Sometime after the death of Louis IX, unknown scribes added Latin texts to the margins of the manuscript. There are also more modern inscriptions added including Persian and Judeo-Persian. Six painters participated in the illumination of the Gothic Crusader Bible. Their miniatures are not only different in style but also in terms of colouring. A very clear difference is discernible in the rich use of gold. The original binding was lost during the centuries. However, the Bodleian Library in Oxford still possesses a manuscript which King Louis IX commissioned around the same time as the Crusader Bible and which still is in its original Gothic de luxe leather binding. That binding was used as a model for this fine art facsimile edition.

15th Century Belles Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry Les Grand Heures de Jean de Frane  Les Grandes heures de Jean de France, duc de Berry, Bibliothèque nationale, Paris. Paris, Draeger frères, Vilo, 1971. ND 3363 B5 G7 Special Collections Oversize
This is larger than any of the Duke’s other Book of Hours and was probably illuminated mainly by the Pseudo-Jacquemart. John of Valois (1340-1416) was the third son of King John II of France and Bonne of Luxemburg; amongst his siblings were Charles V, King of France, Louis I, King of Naples and Philip II (Philip the Bold), Duke of Burgundy. His several titles included Duke of Berry and Auvergne and Count of Poitiers and Montpensier. He was a notable patron who commissioned among other works, several Book of Hours. The Petites Heures (Bibliothèque Nationale, ms. lat. 18.014) is believed to have been executed before 1388, Belles Heures (finished 1408), Les Grandes Heures finished around 1409, and the Très Riches Heures, considered by many to be the most beautiful and now in Brussels (Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, ms. 11060-61) was painted for the Duke under the supervision of Jacquemart de Hesdin. All are important tools for studying manuscript painting of the Court of France of the 14th century. For his most personal Book of Hours, the Belles Heures, the Duke of Berry engaged the most famous book painters at this time, the Limbourg brothers Pol, Herman and Jehanequin. All the 172 miniatures of the Limbourg brothers have a vivacity and colorfulness that secure for them a place in the history of illumination. Every miniature and every page of the text of the Belles Heures of Jean Duke of Berry is surrounded by decorative filigree scrollwork with up to 500 gold glowing ivy leaves. But even this sumptuous decoration is excelled by the playfully arranged luminous elements on the prime pages introducing the Office of the Virgin and the Office of the Dead. This luxurious decoration, which is extraordinarily exuberant even for a Book of Hours from the ducal library, achieves perfection in the use of countless ornamented initials that extend over one or several lines and are painted in red, blue and glowing gold - the colours of the ducal crest. The combination of gold leaf and shell gold in the miniatures creates permanently glowing and glittering effects.

Romanesque manuscripts:There are more illuminated manuscripts extant from the Romanesque period than from all earlier periods. It presented viewers with an energetic art which flourished in England, and migrated across the channel to France. Examples include,Gospels of Saint-Bertin by an English painter at Saint-Bertin, near Boulogne-sur-Mer on the Channel coast, at the end of the tenth century." The human narrative style is matched by the sprightly drawing, the delicate and transparent colors, and the rippling drapery folds. Citeaux: The Romanesque manuscript style appeared in numerous forms, another possibility appearing in a highly imaginative illumination from the Moralia in Job of Saint Gregory, painted at the onset of the twelfth century of the Burgundia monastery of Citeaux. The Bible of Bury Saint Edmunds: Figures, border, ornament, architecture, and landscape, even the text, are treated equally in brilliant color, resulting in total master of surface design, and The Bayeux tapestry: an embroidery done on "eight bolts of natural colored linen with only two different stitches of wool; in tapestry, the design is woven along with the fabric.

The Doubt of St. Thomas. St. Albans Psalter, 12th Century

Mary Magdalene reports the resurrection of Christ to the apostles

Psalm 24

Psalm 118


The ‘Christina’ initial, psalm 105
The psalms were probably the best known piece of literature in the middle ages. They were used as a primer for teaching children to read; the entire psalter was recited once a week in sequence, as part of the monastic opus dei. Selected verses formed the basis for prayers, particularly for people who lacked the resources to follow the full monastic routine. Such a collection of sentences from the psalms was given to the semi-literate hermit Godric of Finchale c.1100 (Godric, c.9).  

Gothic manuscripts: Apparently, for a period of 40 years during the fourth century a Gothic Bishop, Wulfila, prepared a translation of almost all the Bible into the Gothic language. In order to accomplish this task he had had to invent letters. None of the original manuscripts has survived and the lion’s share of those texts we have nowadays is apparently from the sixth century. The best preserved manuscript is the so-called Codex Argenteus – the ‘Silver Book.’ In the great debate concerning the nature of God, which had flared up in the early Church, the Goths happened to be Arians. As it turned out, they were on the loosing side and as such, were destined to history’s dustbin. In practice, it meant that nobody studied or copied their writings and either by intentional destroying or simply by neglect, very little of their heritage has survived. The main reason why anybody would be interested in what was left extant from their legacy is its linguistic value; Gothic is the oldest Germanic language of which we have written evidence.

The 11th-century Tyniec Sacramentary was written with gold on a purple background. National Library of Poland, Warsaw.

God as architect of the world. A scene from The Bible Moralisee c.1220, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. Note the influence of Byzantine

  The Fool with Two Demons, Master of the Ingeborg Psalter (French, active about 1195 - about 1210),
An enthroned man wearing a fool's cap illustrates the opening verse of Psalm 52-"The fool says in his heart 'There is no God.'" The scroll he holds proclaims this heresy: Non e[st] Deu[s] (There is no God). Two mischievous demons incite him to this thought, while an angel above attempts to warn the fool against such a notion.

Jewish Folk Art Manuscript,  17th century, Megillat Esther, the biblical Book Esther read during the Purim festival. Queen Esther gives birth to King Cyrus, one of the many local additions to the original. Judeo-Persian epic, written 1322 by a Jewish poet from Shiraz. Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, USA.

A family celebrating the feast of Passover: Breaking the Matzah bread (unleavened bread). Vellum manuscript from the Barcelona Haggadah. Catalonia; 14th century. The British Library, London, Great Britain.

Duel (fencing) of knights. Illustration of "Theuerdank", an epic tale by Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519), in which he tells how he wooed and wed his wife Marie de Bourgogne. Augsburg, 1517Library, Dillingen, Germany

Scene from the Battle of Crecy, 1346. Fierce fighting between soldiers and knights in armour during the Battle of Crecy, Picardie,France. From "Les Chroniques de France" ,The British Library, London, Great Britain


 The Book of Kells, Ireland, 8  Century.



The Book of Lindisfarne, England.  Circa 7-8 century

The Book of Durrow, Ireland. 7th century.

The St.Albans Psalter, England. 12th century

Go to the next Chapter: Chapter 4 - The Islamic Calligraphy

1. See: A Companion to the History of the Book,edited by Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose, 2007, Blackwell Publishing, eISBN: 9781405127653

2. See: Larousse

3. See: Lindisfarne Gospels British Library.

4. See: The Lindisfarne Gospels: society, spirituality and the scribe
By Michelle P. Brown, University of Toronto Press, 2003, ISBN o-8020- 8597-o

5. see: A History of Art Vol 2 by G. Carotti, Beryl De Zoete, Publisher, E.P. Dutton, New York , 1909

6. Henry, Françoise (1974). The Book of Kells: Reproductions from the Manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin. New York: Alfred A Knopf. ISBN 039449475X.

7. The Book of Durrow: A Medieval Masterpiece at Trinity College Dublin, Roberts Rinehart Publishers 1996, ISBN-13: 978-1570980534

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