Illuminated Manuscripts - LEARNING WITH PICTURES

At a time when many people could not read or write, pictures in illuminated books and manuscripts helped them to learn. This image depicts 16th-century books in the monastery museum of the Orthodox Church of Ura Kidane Mehret, Zege Peninsula (in Ethiopia). Katie Hunt took this picture of the books; online via Wikimedia Commons. License: CC BY 2.0


At a time when religion impacted much of European life, Medieval illuminations were often based on Christian themes or were used to illustrate Bibles:

  • The style used to illustrate the Gospel of Matthew (produced between 1235-1240 with contorted draperies and abrupt gestures) lasted for about eighty years before it was replaced by a more refined Parisian style. (Städtische Sammlung, Rathaus, Goslar)

  • David (the Biblical shepherd, king, harpist and writer of music, including the 23rd Psalm) was also guilty of sending another man (Uriah) to his death so he could marry Uriah’s wife. Expressing remorse for that deed, David wrote the 51st Psalm.

  • During the 13th century, just like today, scholars prepared Bible commentaries. The profiled work comments on King David’s Psalms.   Located at the Library, Esztergom Cathedral, Hungary.

  • Matthew Paris, an English Benedictine monk, artist and historian, included himself in his illustration of the Virgin and Child. It is the frontispiece of Historia Anglorum, created in 1250. (British Library, London)

  • A moralisée, popular in the Middle Ages, is a pictorial Bible in which Biblical events and their “moralizations” are presented in two columns with eight images per page. Each picture is accompanied by a brief text from either the Bible or from a Biblical-related source. The most famous Bible moralisée is the Codex Vindobonensis 2554 maintained in Austria’s National Library. (Romans referred to Vienna as Vindobona.)

  • Fragments of an Antiphonale (a Roman Catholic liturgical chant) used in the 13th century still survive. Even they are illustrated. One of the pages represents God with Moses and the burning bush. Located at the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.

  • Although Dante’s Divine Comedy is still studied, hundreds of years after it was written, today’s copies are no longer lavishly illustrated as they once were. One needs, instead, to buy a separate book to pictorially understand Dante’s message.  Located at the University Library, Budapest.

  • St. Bridget of Sweden had visions which are portrayed in 15th century parchment illuminations. In one famous scene, depicting a priest celebrating the Eucharist, Jesus and his mother Mary allow St. Bridget to see the wafer become the body of Christ.  Revelations of St Bridget of Sweden, The Morgan Library, New York City.
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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2001

Updated Last Revision: Jul 09, 2019

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"LEARNING WITH PICTURES" AwesomeStories.com. Jul 01, 2001. Feb 25, 2020.
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