Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Modern Illuminated Manuscript

Illuminated art, or "illumination", refers to the adornment of a written or printed, text or design with graphics, colors, gold, or silver; or more simply, lighting up a text with visual information. It is fair to say that most individuals associate illumination with the hand-written manuscripts of medieval Europe. Over time, the concept of illuminating text, has influenced and birthed many new art forms. From comic books and graphic novels, to web page design, illuminated art is still present in our modern world.

The original hand-written illuminated manuscripts flourished in medieval culture between the fifth and sixth centuries. These manuscripts created and preserved a legacy of the visual styles and graphic expressions of the time period. The manuscripts were bound as codex books-ultimately the first book form-originally developed for containing a code of laws. This use of the codex was very quickly adopted by monasteries and churches, as illuminated gospels and bibles helped popularize and spread Christianity throughout England. Illumination was thought of as giving glorification to the word of god. Often so, legibility was sacrificed for ornamentation. See for example, the Lindisfarne gospels. (pictured right) Also, during the middle ages illumination was a very expensive and complex process, as the artists were bound by the materials of their time.

Though some art historians would argue that an illuminated manuscript is not considered "illuminated" unless one or more illuminations contain gold foil/leafing, I find that the basic idea of illumination still exists in many modern art forms today. Most prominent is the theory that the modern comic book strip stemmed from illustrations of the marginalia or body of the manuscript. The graphic novel is also an example of text illuminated with graphics. Here I have compared the Breviary of Charles V. (1052) to Neil Gaiman's graphic novel "Coraline".

Additionally, the internet or World Wide Web provides the potential for modern illuminated manuscripts-web pages which combine images text, images, and animation. Web page designers can learn a great deal by studying the hand-written illuminated manuscripts of the medieval era.

Text- Graphic Design History:A Critical Guide, Drucker & McVarish, pgs 45-58


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