The best books on medieval illumination

The Books I Picked & Why

The Illuminated Manuscript

By Janet Backhouse

The Illuminated Manuscript

Why this book?

Any time you pick up a book with Illuminated Manuscript anywhere in the title, you know you’re in for a visual feast. If you’re just starting out with this unique medieval art form, this book is an excellent introduction. It’s not too long, so it won’t overwhelm you. This book provided the foundation for my first steps into researching medieval illumination for my historical romantic novel. What is illumination? Why were books illuminated and what types of books were considered worthy of illumination? Who were some of the most famous medieval illuminators? (Perhaps my heroine’s father had studied with one.) What kind of patrons might my heroine have encountered in her father’s workshop?

This book ignited my imagination while helping me discover the best answers for my story. (NOTE: So much of this art has been digitized that most of the B&W photos are now easy to find in color on the internet.)


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Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life

By Roger S. Wieck

Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life

Why this book?

One cannot dismiss the importance of religion during the Middle Ages. It was intertwined with nearly every aspect of people’s lives, so it was natural that medieval illuminators like my heroine and her father would spend a tremendous amount of their time and talent on creating artwork for religious books. The Book of Hours was one of the most important sources of religious teaching and inspiration during the Middle Ages and indispensable to that inspiration and teaching were the exquisite illuminations that filled their pages.

Time Sanctified places the Book of Hours in its medieval social and religious context and demonstrates through countless visual examples the way illuminated paintings helped bring these religious lessons to life for their medieval owners.


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The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting

By Daniel V. Thompson

The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting

Why this book?

It’s hard to express the depths of my excitement when I discovered this book. This title allowed me to take research for my novel’s heroine to a whole new level. Should she use parchment or vellum, what was the difference, and when should she use one over the other? (Did you know the most sumptuous parchments were died purple? I didn’t until I read this book!) What was the difference between natural and artificial pigments as understood by medieval artists? And how did they create all those brilliant reds, blues, greens, yellows, purples, and more in their paintings? How did they make paint out of gold or apply gold leaf to their art? All these details and much, much more are laid out here. Everything a medieval artist, in life or in fiction, could possibly need to know! (This book also touches on other forms of medieval painting, like painting on wood and cloth.)


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The Illuminated Alphabet: An Inspirational Introduction to Creating Decorative Calligraphy

By Timothy Noad, Patricia Seligman

The Illuminated Alphabet: An Inspirational Introduction to Creating Decorative Calligraphy

Why this book?

Reading about medieval illumination is one thing. But suppose you want to actually paint an illuminated letter for yourself? This book provides a do-it-yourself experience, showing you step-by-step how to reproduce alphabet letters from actual medieval manuscripts. Each project includes tips on painting techniques, a list of the tools and paints you will need, then walks you through the process with detailed photographic examples for each step. Choose from Celtic, Romanesque, Gothic styles, and more. This book is a feast for the eyes, even if you have no artistic ambitions for yourself. Simply leaf through it and imagine the world of the medieval artist as they created these gorgeous initial letters in their manuscripts.


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Marguerite Makes a Book

By Bruce Robertson, Kathryn Hewitt

Marguerite Makes a Book

Why this book?

I added this book simply because I think it’s charming. Although written for children, grownups will love it, too! In 15th century Paris, Marguerite, the young daughter of a manuscript illuminator, has to help her aging father illuminate a Book of Hours for a very important lady or her father will lose both his commission and his reputation. This beautifully illustrated book joins Marguerite through each step of her illuminated book’s creation. You will be transported to medieval Paris and Marguerite’s workshop as you read and gaze at the pictures! This book was inspired by a rare collection of illuminated manuscripts held by the J. Paul Getty Museum.


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