Illuminating words

Modern scholarship has increasingly focussed attention on the interrelationship of the arts, on the ways in which, for example, the visual arts may complement or inform literary discourse. In this context, a study of the ancient craft of book illumination offers fresh perspectives on the ways in which word, image and decoration may interact imaginatively and intellectually. Books serve no simple or clearly defined static function, unchanging from age to age; on the contrary, their uses are almost as varied as their owners, and the force of the written word, whether it is read silently, solemnly proclaimed, or received as meditative nourishment, lies in its capacity to penetrate with fresh relevance a changing milieu. Similarly, familiar images and systems of decoration, ordering and design, can be charged with a new vitality when they become part of a different literary or social context. 

Seven illuminated manuscripts from the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria demonstrate how a series of texts all of which are based on scriptural and liturgical sources reflect in their contents, ordering and decoration, the varied interests of their original owners and the specific purpose for which they were made. 

The Byzantine Gospels (24.2 x 17.4 cm) is the most ancient manuscript in the Gallery’s collection.1See M.J. Riddle, ‘No. 1’ in Μ. M. Manion and V. F. Vines, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in Australian Collections, London, 1984, pp. 23–26, plate 1, figs 1–7; and H. Buchthal, ‘An Illuminated Gospel Book of about 1100 A.D.’, Special Bulletin of the National Gallery of Victoria, 1961. Its text consists of the four gospels written in Greek. They are prefaced, according to long-established custom, by an introductory letter of the fourth-century bishop Eusebius to Carpianus, together with a set of Canon Tables devised by Eusebius as a guide to the common passages in each gospel. Tables of lections on the last two folios which have been added in a later hand, and marginal reading guides scattered throughout, indicate that the book was regularly used in the liturgy, and, although now divested of some of its decorative elements, it was obviously illuminated in such a way as to emphasise its solemn ritualistic function. Although written for the most part in brown ink, the text of the first page of each gospel and the lists of chapters which precede them are in gold. The titles to each gospel are also in gold, and gold initials mark divisions in the text throughout. Large ornamental initials in gold and colours introduce the gospels. These are of complex figurative, interlaced and zoomorphic shapes and designs. The A at the beginning of St Mark (f.80), for example, forms the pillar of the stylite saint with a ladder resting against it. A man clambers up the ladder, while the saint lowers a basket which rests in its descent on the bar of the letter. 

The detailed and elaborate attention given to these initials might lead one to expect that the rich imagery of the gospel texts themselves would be amply exploited. The illumination of the manuscript, however, is confined for the most part to a few long-established elements, namely finely-patterned architectural framing devices of pillars and arches which enclose the letter and Canon Tables of Eusebius, an author portrait of the appropriate evangelist before each gospel, now alas torn out, and splendid ornamental headpieces, with individual patterns of rinceaux or foliated ornament organised on geometric lines at the top of the Canon Tables and the introductory gospel pages. The rich blues, reds and greens of this decoration, set against a gold ground, evoke on the vellum’s surface the monumental splendour of large-scale mosaics. Apart from standing prophet figures in the margins of the introductory pages – heralds of the new dispensation revealed by the gospels – the sacred text is allowed to speak for itself within an ambience of colour and formal patterning. 

Two distinctive illustrative features, however, occur in the pages prefacing the gospels. On the decorative columns of the architectural frames perch a series of figures (fig. 1). Some are simple Atlantes supporting the arches above them, but most bear attributes or are engaged in symbolic activities. They represent the labours of the months and a group of Christian-monastic virtues. Hugo Buchthal has shown that this decorative programme is reflected in two later Byzantine Gospel Books, one now in San Marco, Venice (Marciana gr. Z.540), and another in Tiflis. All three books were probably the product of the one scriptorium, and these special features were not absorbed into the mainstream of Byzantine gospel book illumination. 

Still more singular is the elaborate frontispiece to the manuscript in which a tall, dignified monk presents the gospels to a majestic image of the Virgin and Child (fig. 2). An accompanying gold-lettered inscription provides identification: ‘O Queen of all as mother of the Divine Word, the donor and writer of the book and painter of the pictures in it is your servant the consecrated Theophanes.’ Scribes, both Eastern and Western, not infrequently signed their manuscripts, but it is rare indeed to find explicit reference to the author of the illumination, and it is still more unusual for the scribe-illuminator to be depicted in a full-scale composition. This frontispiece, moreover, is a fine piece of painting in its own right. The Virgin, with regal stance supporting a blessing Christ Child, is of the Hodegetria type, which occurs in both icons and mosaics as a symbol of the majesty of the church and of its important mission as the guide to Christ. In the miniature the only modification of the traditional iconographical format is the gesture of the Virgin’s right hand, which stretches out to receive the gold and jewelled-studded book presented by Theophanes. 

This composition is of both personal and public significance. The dedication to the Virgin Hodegetria, it has been suggested, may indicate that the manuscript was written for the monastery of the Hodegon in Constantinople, known to have had an active scriptorium from the mid-eleventh century. Theophanes must surely have had a more authoritative and representative role in such a community than simply that of craftsman–scribe and illuminator. His formal presentation to the Virgin parallels the dedication theme in early mosaics, where the local bishop offers an image of the church as a symbol of its dedication. It should be noted, too, that the title ‘donor’ is linked in the inscription with those of writer and painter. Presumably, then, Theophanes was in an authoritative position such as abbot to be able so to influence this composition and to symbolise in his person the communal significance of a book designed for use in the solemn celebration of the liturgy. 

As accomplished scribe and illuminator, he also exercised a certain freedom in the decoration of the Canon Tables with the labours of the months and virtues. Both these sets of images follow established Byzantine patterns to be found in other types of manuscripts and artistic media. Transposed to the Canon Tables they acquire a sharpened allusive edge. The calendar figures attest to the pervasive presence of the gospels through the passage of time, and their appropriateness for all seasons. The virtues are personal in emphasis: prudence, courage, thoughtfulness, alms-giving, well-doing, kindness of heart, exhortation, repentance, love, wisdom, contemplation and action. Juxtaposed with the calendar figures, they call for the living-out of the gospel ideal within the monastic environment. 

Along with the gospels, the psalter was one of the biblical books most frequently copied and illuminated in the Middle Ages. In the West it was widely used, not only in the liturgy but also as a personal prayer-book. The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, however, saw a new devotional manual replace it in popularity: the Book of Hours. Two manuscripts in the Gallery’s collection document the transitional phase from psalter to Book of Hours. The first of these is a psalter-hours, executed in Liège c.1275 (fig. 3).2See ‘No. 69’, in Manion and Vines, op. cit., pp. 170–73, pl. 35, figs 155–162, and J. H. Oliver, The Lambert-le-Bègue Psalter: A Study in 13th Century Mosan Illumination, Ph.D. thesis, Columbia University, 1976. It was acquired through the Felton Bequest in 1933, and is now on deposit with the State Library of Victoria. The second work, the Aspremont Psalter-Hours, or Offices, 21.5 x 15.0 cm, probably produced in Verdun in the first decade of the fourteenth century, is divided into two parts (figs 4, 5).3See ‘No. 70’, in Manion and Vines, op. cit., pp. 173–76, pl. 36, figs 163–74. Its psalter is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, Ms. Douce 118, and the Offices were acquired for the National Gallery of Victoria in 1922 through the Felton Bequest; the sections are treated here as a single entity. 

When fully developed the Book of Hours contained the Little Office of the Virgin, as well as other popular supplements to the breviary, such as the penitential psalms, the litany of the saints and the Office or Vigils of the Dead. These supplements were first attached to psalters, before forming an independent prayer-book. In addition to the psalter, a liturgical calendar and Easter table with verses in honour of St Lambert-le-Bègue and a series of canticles drawn from the Old Testament, the Liège manuscript contains an Office which is a mixture of the breviary Office for the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin and elements of the Little Office, abbreviated Offices for three other feasts of the Virgin – the Purification, Annunciation and Assumption – a litany of the saints and the Vigils of the Dead. There are also more local prayers and devotions: a 150-stanza composition in Latin called the Aves or psalter of the Virgin, and a poem in Walloon French dedicated to the Passion. The book, as it comes to us today in a sixteenth-century binding, is supplemented by texts from three fourteenth-century Books of Hours. This provides further evidence of the shift in emphasis from its use as a psalter to that of a Book of Hours. 

The Aspremont manuscript, in addition to a psalter, liturgical calendar, canticles and litany (Oxford section), contains five full Offices for the feasts of Christmas, the Purification, Annunciation, Assumption and Nativity of the Virgin. Unlike the Liège book it does not have a version of the Little Office, nor does it include any other supplements or local devotions. Indeed, although produced some thirty years later than the Liège book it has closer links with the breviary than with a Book of Hours. 

The format and illumination of these manuscripts combine traditional systems with more modern adaptations. They help to localise the works and provide us with information about their owners. 

The calendar pages of the Liège and Aspremont manuscripts are illustrated by small miniatures of the labours of the months and the signs of the zodiac, in conformity with a widespread convention throughout France and the Netherlands, which was to continue into Books of Hours. In the Liège book, the labour of sowing the seed, which in manuscripts produced further south takes place in October, is depicted in September in keeping with a Germanic model. 

Three full pages of illustration preface the psalter section in the Liège manuscript. Within small roundels, whose shapes and colours reflect stained glass design, two scenes from the life of Christ, from the Annunciation up to the Ascension, are depicted on each page (fig. 3). The last page actually introduces the psalter, and here the roundels are skilfully translated into the upper and lower sections of a large initial Β which announces the first psalm: ‘Beatus Vir’. The prefacing of the psalter with a series of pages devoted to cyclical illustration, often dedicated to Christ, was a deep-seated tradition appearing in the West as early as the eleventh century. The Aspremont book has no such introductory cycle. 

In the Divine Office the psalter was divided so as to provide for the recitation of the complete sequence within the course of one week. These liturgical divisions are reflected in the series of historiated initials which introduce certain psalms in both the Liège and Aspremont psalters. In the Liège psalter, however, two visual traditions are combined: a literal interpretation of the first words of the psalm, together with references to David as the received author of the psalter, with scenes from the life of Christ; in the Aspremont psalter the literal–Davidic pattern is adhered to throughout (fig. 4). 


While an image of the Virgin and Child introduces matins for the Little Office of the Virgin in the Liège manuscript, the historiated initials for the remaining hours of this Office are devoted to the Passion. This tradition of associating the canonical hours for prayer with the sufferings of Christ was to remain influential in the illumination of Books of Hours, with the Little Office being usually illustrated by either a Passion cycle or a series of scenes in honour of the Virgin. 

Apart from the three full-page illustrations, historiated initials of modest dimensions with simple border extensions comprise the decorative vocabulary of the Liège manuscript. By contrast, in the Aspremont Psalter-Hours, splendidly illuminated pages mark the beginning of all the major sections (figs 4, 5). Here the historiated initials are enlarged to hold compositions which dominate the page, while side panels of gold letters on coloured grounds, versal initials in gold, blue and red, elaborately cusped bar borders with small miniature insets, and a wealth of marginal drolleries, provide a setting, distinguished by verve and variety rather than systematic precision; and, although the illustration of the psalter follows an established pattern, there is an element of improvisation in the illumination of the Offices section. This is especially evident in the treatment of the lesser hours within each Office, where smaller historiated initials repeat a few basic narrative themes or else resort to images of Christ, the Virgin, and saints, often with portraits of the donors at prayer before them. 

A distinctive feature of this manuscript is its wealth of marginal decoration. The reader is accompanied throughout the book by a multitude of drolleries: lively figures act out proverbs, animals and hybrids lampoon the professions and clergy, while birds and animals evoke bestiary tales. Perhaps most interesting of all are the numerous references to the original patron family – Joffroy d’Aspremont and his wife Isabelle de Kievraing. The knight, whose arms, together with those of Isabelle, are also displayed in numerous line-endings and small initials, is presented not only at prayer but as actively engaged in jousting or associated activities. 

What do we know about the first owners of these psalter-hours and how were these books used? Despite the mix of texts in the Liège book and its distinctive combination of visual themes and patterns it is not an isolated production. Judith Oliver has identified some forty books produced in the diocese of Liège between c.1250 and the opening decades of the fourteenth century, all of which share a common textual and visual tradition. Several of these manuscripts were made for the Beguines, dedicated women who shared a communal life and many of whom lived in Liège at this time. Not all the manuscripts, however, can be directly associated with the Beguines, and these books give us an insight into the devotional practices of an extensive group of people. Local workshops must have been practised in turning out these prayer-books. The script is neat and careful, the illumination of good quality, and expensive gold leaf is used with a limited colour range. Presumably the manuscripts were reasonably expensive, but not beyond the range of the Beguine communities and members of the literate upper-middle class, both clerical and lay. 

The Aspremont Psalter-Hours is a more personal commission. Textually, it seems to have been custom-made. I know of no other manuscript which duplicates its contents. Its illumination also, we have seen, makes many specific references to the original patrons. Joffroy d’Aspremont belonged to a noble family who owned lands in Namur and the Lorraine. They were related through marriage to the de Bar family, prominent in the history of Church and State at this time. Joffroy d’Aspremont’s son Gobert married Mary de Bar, the sister of Renaud, canon of Verdun and later bishop of Metz, and of Marguerite, Abbess of the Benedictine Convent, Saint-Maur, in Verdun. These family links are relevant, since the Aspremont Psalter-Hours is closely related stylistically to a breviary (fig. 6), which was probably executed for Marguerite de Bar when she was Abbess of Saint-Maur. A Book of Hours in a private collection (fig. 7) also belongs to the same workshop.4Lot 77, Sotheby’s Sale, 3 July 1984; see Sotheby’s Sale Catalogue, pp. 102–11. This style has some links with a well-established school of illumination at Metz which produced several fine liturgical manuscripts for Renaud de Bar. It is none the less distinctive and probably issues from a workshop in Verdun with more entrenched local elements. On f.142 of the psalter section of the Aspremont book, the illuminator has left his signature. A tiny figure, held in the beak of a marginal grotesque, holds out a scroll on which are written the words: ‘Nicolaus me fecit qui illuminat librum’. Clearly Nicolaus and his fellow illuminators were called on to produce a variety of manuscripts, ranging from strictly liturgical manuals through to individually tailored breviary-extracts and the more modern Book of Hours, for a clientele which embraced clerical, monastic and lay members of the local nobility. 

Two French fifteenth-century manuscripts in the National Gallery’s collection are illustrative of the Book of Hours at the peak of its development. The so-called Vigils of the Dead, now on deposit in the State Library of Victoria, are in fact a fragment of a Book of Hours (fig. 8).5See ‘No. 74’, in Manion and Vines, op. cit., pp. 182–83, plate 39, figs 199–202. A Dijon provenance rather than Besançon seems likely for this book. Acquired through the Felton Bequest in 1933, it contains a calendar, the four gospel sequences, a prayer in honour of the crucifixion, the penitential psalms and litany, and the Vigils of the Dead. Originally it probably included the Little Office of the Virgin, shorter Hours of the Cross and the Holy Spirit, and memorial prayers for particular saints. Information in its calendar and litany, together with the style of the illumination, indicates a provenance in Eastern France, probably Dijon, for this manuscript. Furthermore, certain local workshop practices, which the book reveals, are common to a group of manuscripts produced in Dijon around this time. Some of these suggest that the books were more awkwardly compiled from the activities of individual craftsmen than were their counterparts in Parisian workshops. The first leaf of the fourth quire of the Melbourne work, for example, is an independent insertion, and the border decoration for the rest of this gathering and on the three pages which contain miniatures, is by a different hand from that of the rest of the book. The pages with miniatures and their conjoint leaves are on finer vellum, and one of the miniatures (on f.44) is of markedly inferior workmanship compared to the other two. 

The miniatures of the Wharncliffe Hours (figs. 9, 10, 11), so called after its nineteenth-century owner, are the work of the illuminator Maître François, who was active in Paris from at least the 1460s through to the 1490s.6See ‘No. 78’, in Manion and Vines, op. cit., pp. 187–98, pl. 41, figs 214–18; and M. Manion, The Wharncliffe Hours, London, 1981, 32 facsimile pages in colour. He seems also to have worked in the Loire region, for patrons in centres such as Angers and Le Mans. 

The text and programme of illustration of the Wharncliffe Hours exemplifies the French Book of Hours in its most popular phase. Its illumination, however, is of the highest quality, and comparison with the Dijon fragment demonstrates how Maître François exercised independence and originality in rendering certain themes and compositions. 

The gospel sequences in these books were regularly introduced by portraits of the evangelists – a continuation of a tradition, which as we noted with the Byzantine Gospels, stretches back to early Christian times. In the Dijon Hours (f.13), the image of a standing St John heads the sequences. He holds a cup from which issue snakes. This is an allusion to a story from the apocrypha, and the representation is based on a type frequently used for medieval depictions of the saint. The Wharncliffe Hours (f.7) enlivens its corresponding introductory page by presenting a dramatic enactment of the apocryphal legend. St John appears blessing the cup, as in the Dijon version, but he also confronts Aristodemus, the high priest of Diane at Ephesus who had challenged the saint to drink poison, having first tested its effectiveness on two malefactors, who died forthwith. The latter lie prostrate at St John’s feet, while the background is filled with spectators. 

The penitential psalms were regularly illustrated by a composition of David. He is often shown kneeling in prayer with harp or lyre beside him, and in the Dijon book, we see him thus (fig. 8). Again, Maître François injects a more lively and unusual narrative element into the corresponding Wharncliffe miniature (fig. 9). The scene depicted is that of David encountering Abigail, as he struts aggressively in front of his troops. This is an exceedingly rare, though appropriate, choice of theme for this section of a Book of Hours. Abigail went forth to placate David’s anger against her husband Nabal. She was consequently interpreted as a symbol of mediation and a pre-figuration of the Virgin, averting the divine wrath by her pleading. This is an apt illustration, therefore, for the penitential psalms whose central theme is a plea for mercy and forgiveness. 

The Dijon Vigils of the Dead are introduced by a Funeral Service, again a well-established illustration for this text. The corresponding Wharncliffe page is more dynamically oriented (fig. 10). Its main miniature presents the dramatic encounter of the Three Living and the Three Dead – a popular legend which had already been used by the French painter and miniaturist Jean Fouquet. The total decoration of the Wharncliffe page includes more unusual elements: a border of gold, leafless branches replaces the regular floral acanthus pattern, and in a subsidiary scene along the lower margin a kneeling figure ponders his mortality beside a grave which is being freshly dug. 

Elsewhere in the Wharncliffe Hours, Maître François further demonstrates his ability to infuse traditional themes with fresh narrative verve or contemporary commentary. By this time, it had become a customary practice in many French workshops for the miniature of the Annunciation which introduced the Hours of the Virgin at matins to be highlighted as the most important composition of the entire book. Maître François presents the Annunciation within a contemporary dramatic context (fig. 11). He draws directly on the Mystery Play of the French theologian Arnoul Gréban and shows the virtues Mercy and Truth, Justice and Peace, reconciled in the Court of Heaven as a result of the Incarnation, life, death and the Resurrection of Christ. The opening and closing scenes of Gréban’s play are telescoped in this introduction. Gabriel is shown in Heaven, kneeling to receive his commission, and in the scene below announcing the Incarnation to Mary. The Virtues are already reconciled – something which takes place in the play at the conclusion of Christ’s life after his triumphant Ascension into Heaven. This scene appears in several late fifteenth-century French manuscripts, all of which are associated with the school of Maître François, who was clearly responsible for devising the composition and applying it to the Book of Hours. 

It is not surprising to find that Maître François was not simply the provider of a plentiful supply of Books of Hours; he was also much in demand as the illuminator of new and detailed programmes of illustration for copies of classical, historical and theological texts in translation. Such works were commissioned by a nobility intent on developing libraries of splendidly decorated books. Maître François’s new sequence of miniatures for the French translation of St Augustine’s ‘Cité de Dieu’ were devised in collaboration with the scholar Robert Gaguin, general of the Order of Trinitarians, for Charles de Gaucourt, governor of Paris. He also illuminated a splendid copy of the French translation of Valerius Maximus for Philippe de Commines. Other patrons included Jacques d’Armagnac, due de Nemours, le Connetable de Saint-Pol de Luxembourg, Rene II, due de Lorraine, Mathieu Beauvarlet, and Charles II of Anjou, comte du Maine. The calendar for the Wharncliffe Hours highlights saints specifically honoured in the diocese of Angers, such as St Maurilius, its patron saint, and SS Aubin and René, former bishops. It was therefore, probably produced for a patron living in that diocese. 

Finally, two Books of Hours, produced at the end of the fifteenth century, take us into the realm of the devotional book explicitly treasured as a collector’s item. The Strozzi–Acciaiuoli Hours (fig. 12) was illuminated in Florence c.1495 by the brothers Gherardo and Monte di Giovanni del Fora.7See C. O’Brien, ‘No. 33’, in Manion and Vines, op. cit., pp. 92–95. pl. 23, figs 76–80. It is a particularly deluxe product. Not only is the illumination of the highest quality, indicating that it is the work of the masters of the workshop rather than a product of assistants, but the fine-quality vellum and the humanist script reinforce the impression that it was commissioned by one who delighted in the new uses and format of the humanist book. The pattern of decoration follows one well-established in Florence by this time for Books of Hours. Major divisions are marked by splendid double-page openings made up of a full-page miniature lacing a page with the opening words of the text. Through elaborate framing and a large historiated initial, this page too gives the impression of being fully given over to illumination, and parts of its vellum are stained rich red, blue or purple, in a manner reminiscent of the great imperial works of late antiquity or Carolingian times. The decorative vocabulary used to fill the ornate frames is a mix of newly discovered or revived classical motifs, such as groteschi, masks, wreaths, putti, etc., and traditional Christian images and symbols. Elsewhere, the text employs the effective device of a gold historiated initial, accompanied by an elegant floral border spray, to mark important subdivisions, and throughout the manuscript the fine humanist script is contrasted strikingly with the smooth white vellum of the margins. Thus, despite the rich double panels that are like independent paintings, the notion of the book as such predominates, with the importance of lucidity and legibility of script being pre-eminent. It is indeed in keeping with the spirit of this work that we have an explicit by the scribe, although he does not give his name. The text also maintains clear links with its liturgical origins. Its basic elements are the same as those of the Wharncliffe Hours, but as is usual for fifteenth-century Italian Books of Hours it contains also a series of votive masses in honour of the Virgin. Little work has been done to date on the early development of Italian Books of Hours, but it would seem that in the early stages they were frequently appended to missals as well as psalters, and later these books were used by the laity at Mass, as well as in private or household devotions. 

This Book of Hours proudly bore the arms of its first owners, although it seems to have changed hands very early. The arms of the Strozzi and Acciaiuoli originally appeared on ff.16v and 17, but those of the Albizzi were then painted over the Strozzi. It has been suggested that the book may have been commissioned in anticipation of the marriage of Filippo Strozzi’s niece, Lucrezia di Lorenzo Strozzi, to Robert de Donato Acciaiuoli. The latter’s Albizzi wife died in 1496. Thus there must have been a sudden change in ownership very shortly after the completion of the manuscript, or even possibly during its production. 

For all its emphasis on classical and humanist elements, the Strozzi–Acciaiuoli Hours nevertheless retains its identity as a devotional prayer book. There is something much more enigmatic about an unusually large Book of Hours for the Use of York acquired through the Felton Bequest in 1933, and now on deposit in the State Library of Victoria (fig. 13).8See ‘No. 56’, in Manion and Vines, op. cit., pp. 135–36, pl. 31, figs 120–27. Hours for the Use of York are extremely rare, and this is one of only six known extant examples. Its border decoration and the small miniatures of the calendar pages – the only figurative decoration in the book – indicate that it was produced in Bruges at the end of the fifteenth century, a centre which produced many books for the English market. The large format and the two-column layout of this manuscript are most unusual for a Book of Hours. Dr Vera Vines has convincingly demonstrated the book’s affinity with a series of secular manuscripts commissioned by Raphael de Marcatellis, abbot of St Bavon, Ghent, from a Bruges workshop or workshops between the years 1478 and 1507. These books are characterised by the precision and clarity with which the decorative elements order the text. There is an overriding sense of the collector’s interest in establishing a systematic group of works, handsome in appearance and accessible to read. The Book of Hours, now in Melbourne, may have been designed by the same workshop for use by an English household, or it may have even been a collector’s item in the abbot’s library. Its format and layout are at all events dictated, not by liturgical or devotional tradition, but by contemporary Renaissance and humanist interests in the presentation of the written word. 

One has travelled a long way from the monastic environment of the Byzantine Gospels. Throughout that journey, however, this group of manuscripts attests to the capacity of the illuminated book to respond to the interests and needs of a changing society, and the lineaments of their owners and makers are never very far away from us – whether it is Theophanes in his contemplative setting directing specific attention to the Canon Tables and dedication page, the Aspremont family celebrating its jousting engagements in lively marginalia, with the illuminator Nicolaus cheekily proclaiming his involvement, Maître François enlivening his devotional miniatures with features drawn from his other commissions, or Italian and Netherlandish book-lovers focusing in fresh ways on the elucidating qualities of word and decoration. Over the centuries these illuminated manuscripts have retained the power to transmit the vitality and interests of the people for whom they came into being. 

Margaret Manion, Professor of Fine Arts University of Melbourne (in 1988).


Dr Ursula Hoff introduced me to the world of the illuminated manuscript some thirty years ago. This article is written in appreciation of the riches that introduction opened to me for later research and enjoyment. 



1              See M.J. Riddle, ‘No. 1’ in Μ. M. Manion and V. F. Vines, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in Australian Collections, London, 1984, pp. 23–26, plate 1, figs 1–7; and H. Buchthal, ‘An Illuminated Gospel Book of about 1100 A.D.’, Special Bulletin of the National Gallery of Victoria, 1961. 

2              See ‘No. 69’, in Manion and Vines, op. cit., pp. 170–73, pl. 35, figs 155–162, and J. H. Oliver, The Lambert-le-Bègue Psalter: A Study in 13th Century Mosan Illumination, Ph.D. thesis, Columbia University, 1976. 

3              See ‘No. 70’, in Manion and Vines, op. cit., pp. 173–76, pl. 36, figs 163–74. 

4              Lot 77, Sotheby’s Sale, 3 July 1984; see Sotheby’s Sale Catalogue, pp. 102–11. 

5              See ‘No. 74’, in Manion and Vines, op. cit., pp. 182–83, plate 39, figs 199–202. A Dijon provenance rather than Besançon seems likely for this book. 

6              See ‘No. 78’, in Manion and Vines, op. cit., pp. 187–98, pl. 41, figs 214–18; and M. Manion, The Wharncliffe Hours, London, 1981, 32 facsimile pages in colour. 

7              See C. O’Brien, ‘No. 33’, in Manion and Vines, op. cit., pp. 92–95. pl. 23, figs 76–80. 

8              See ‘No. 56’, in Manion and Vines, op. cit., pp. 135–36, pl. 31, figs 120–27.