Illuminated Letters
What is an illumination?
• Strictly speaking, illumination is
decoration which uses gold, gold leaf
or silver;
• However, the term is often used
loosely to mean decorated or
illustrated. So . . .
What is an illumination?
An illumination
is an
or additional
that enhances
the written
• The term, illumination comes from
the term Illuminate, or to fill with
• The effect of light is achieved with the
application of gold leaf to the letters
and images, which reflect light and
appear to glow.
An illuminated letter
• was usually the first letter of a
page or paragraph.
• It was always enlarged and in
color with gold applied in
areas, while the rest of
• the text remained black.
Images used to
enhance letters
Plants and
Mythological creatures
These images
were modified
to fit into or
around the
In some cases
The image
took on the
shape of
the letter
Throughout the Middle Ages
all documents and books were
handwritten. Called "manuscripts" from the Latin words for hand (manu)
writing (script)
”Manuscripts" were
produced before
printing ushered in the
European Renaissance.
Writing and books were in the
hands of the literate nobility,
merchant upper class and the
Most books were made by
monks and nuns in a
monastic scriptorium, the
room(s) reserved for
producing books.
Because the recording of
historical events was such
an important task,
illuminations were
ordered by Kings and
religious leaders to be
added to various pages in
order to add interest and
importance to their
When were illuminations made?
When were illuminations made?
The Egyptians were the first
culture known to document
events by use of Illuminated
One of the most famous being
the Book Of The Dead that
dates back to 1310 B.C..
As written languages developed,
various countries adopted the
idea of illuminating their
The tradition was carried on for
hundreds of years into Medieval
Europe during the Middle Ages.
By the 7th century,
Illuminations became
a highly respected Art
At this time some of the most
beautiful and famous
illuminations were now being
created in Ireland and
Who was needed to create
1. a parchementer to
make the parchment
from the animal skin
Who was needed to create
2. a scribe to do the
calligraphy (from
the Greek
beautiful [Kalli]
writing [graphia])
Who was needed to create
3. an illuminator who
actually created the
illuminated letters
and other decorations
on each page.
Who was needed to create
4. a bookbinder to sew
the individual pages
into a book format and
make the leather
Importance of Illuminations
Illuminations defined a time in history
when the ability to read was sacred
and reserved for religious leaders or
those born of royal blood.
Because it took great skill to create
such items of beauty and because these
creations were so important, it was a
great time in history for artists! For
without their skills and talents such
beautiful images might not have ever
A Few Examples: