illuminated manuscript



Winter is coming. All men must die. And Game of Thrones is back! Stay tuned each week as we unpack Sunday’s episodes through masterpieces.

A baby’s laugh lulls an old man to a peaceful death, the snows of winter fall all around the northern realms, and a faithful ally is flayed alive. A king considers two mystical royal bloodline options with the game of thrones board game before him. 

A wolf aids a weary fighter, slaves compete like gladiators, and an irate son makes demands of his mother. A seductively venomous prison scene ends with a fortuitous antidote to a powerful poison, while elsewhere, even queens are not free from the iron bars of prison and the judgment of the gods.

This week’s wildcard images come from The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Dive deeper with featurettes connecting life in the Middle Ages to fantasy TV.

“This German art student, Benjamin Harff, decided, for his exam at the Academy of Arts, to do something only slightly ambitious — to hand-illuminate and bind a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion. It took him six months of work. In very 21st century elvish-monk style, he hand-illuminated the text which had been printed on his home Canon inkjet printer. He worked with a binder to assemble the resulting book.”


^ This is the British Library Digitized Manuscripts Site.

A lot of people have asked about my process doing research for medievalpoc. I use a lot of resources and tools that are readily available for anyone to use, and this is one of them. There are thousands of manuscripts available to just page through and zoom in on, as if you had the book right in front of you.

If the idea of searching through endless lists of titles and numbers is daunting to you, the Digitized Medieval Manuscripts Collection has a blog.

The blog makes topical posts with images of the manuscripts according to those topics, and then links to the full manuscripts, so you can go looking at them yourself:

Like so:

You can learn what the heck a Leucrota is supposed to be here.

They also have a Twitter.

One of the best things about medievalpoc is that I get to see people get excited about art and history, and if you decide you’d like to go exploring, this is a great place to do that. I think the manuscript viewer is relatively user-friendly, and there’s a ton of information about the histories of the manuscripts themselves there, too.

Illuminated Leaf


16th Century

(via and The Metropolitan Museum)

Poem by Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

My heart is like an oyster shell, the Beloved’s phantom is the pearl; now I am no more contained, for this house is filled with Him.

Night split the lip of my soul with the sweetness of His talk; I am surprised at him who says, “Truth is bitter.”

Mortals’ food comes from without, but the lover’s food is from within; he regurgitates and chews, for the lover is like a camel.

Be swift-faring like a peri, denude yourself of your body; nakedness is not allowed to him who has the mange.

Salah al-Din has come to the chase; all the lions are his quarry; that man is his servant who is free from the two worlds.


The mythological headless creature known as a Blemmyes. Believed to have had their eyes in their shoulders and mouth in their chests.

The Rutland Psalter.  Folios 57r, 88r 84r respectively.

Manuscript made in England, possibly in London circa AD 1260

Add MS 62925: Images from the British Library manuscript website.


Saint Bede the Venerable, Saint Isidore of Sevilla, Saint Abbo of Fleury. Cosmography, Walters MS W73. 1100s.

Created in 12th century England, this manuscript was intended to be a scientific textbook for monks, designed as a compendium of cosmographical knowledge. The complex diagrams that accompany the texts help to illustrate this knowledge, and include visualizations of the heavens and earth, seasons, winds, tides, and the zodiac, as well as demonstrations of how these things relate to man. Most of the diagrams are rotae, or wheel-shaped schemata, favored throughout the Middle Ages for the presentation of scientific and cosmological ideas. Moreover, the circle, considered the most perfect shape and a symbol of God, was seen as conveying the cyclical nature of time as well as the logic, order, and harmony of the created universe.

Aurora Consurgens (att: St. Thomas Aquinas or “Pseudo-Aquinas”)

f. 34v: Black Female Angel

Germany (c. 1420s)

Parchment Codex with Watercolor Miniatures, 20.4 x 13.9 cm.

Zürich, Zentralbibliothek.

This is one of those manuscript miniatures that is so beautiful and strange, it’s hard to believe it’s really as old as it is. Aurora Consurgens is an alchemical treatise; a commentary on the Latin translation of Silvery Waters by Muhammed ibn Umail at-Tamîmî (Senior Zadith), attributed first to Saint Thomas Aquinas and later attributed to “Pseudo-Aquinas”.

The miniatures are unusual not only for their quality, but also for the fact that they’re tiny watercolor paintings on the parchment codex. The whole text has been digitized here, and you can read like you were holding it:


The link has a photo with flash in which you can see the gilded portions a bit better, as well as the ability to zoom in to see the details. For those who were curious, inside the Angel’s body is a sheathed dagger and a coiled serpent:


These are two illuminated gospel books were made between 300-700 AD at Abba Garima Monastery in Ethiopia.

The Garima Gospels contain twenty eight full-page illuminations; each one bursting with color. The remarkably extant book covers are decorated with gold, silver, and holes where gems had been placed.

According to the oral history of the monastery, the manuscripts were scribed and illustrated by Abba Garima himself in the 490s AD. Thus, the Garima Gospels were acknowledged by the monks as being extremely old and religiously valuable.

The handful of Western scholars who managed to venture to Abba Garima Monastery upon their inspection of the manuscripts suspected some Mediterranean influence, but concluded that the illuminations were within a firmly conventional and uninteresting style of 12th-14th century Ethiopian painting.

It was not until 2000, when the French scholar Jaques Mercier brought fragments of the manuscripts’ parchment to Oxford University for radiocarbon dating, that the Garima Gospels were pushed into the international spotlight as one of the oldest (and most well preserved) illuminated gospel books.

Now, the Garima Gospels are considered one of the artistic wonders of the world: a priceless treasure from the ancient world preserved in the most unlikely of places.

The difficulty of actually seeing these extraordinary manuscripts–many of them are hoarded away in the mountain monasteries of Ethiopia–has kept the art historical community from bringing to light what could be a vast and beautiful strain of Late Antique painted religious books.

Additionally, it was not until scholars found a possible connection that the manuscripts shared with the “Western tradition” that they decided it was worthy of actually being looked at!

The Garima Gospels are both heartening and frustrating in this regard…