Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

22 February 2013

Images in the Public Domain

Just a reminder that images from our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts are now available under a Public Domain mark. This means that they are available for download and reuse, on condition that certain basic principles are observed: (1) please respect the creators; (2) please credit the source of the material; (3) please share knowledge where possible; (4) please consider the efforts of the British Library in preserving and making such works available, should they be used for commercial or other for-profit purposes.

A decorated initial word-panel containing a unicorn and a bear, from the Duke of Sussex's German Pentateuch.
Initial word-panel Shir (song) inhabited by a unicorn and bear, in the "Duke of Sussex's German Pentateuch" (Germany, 14th century): London, British Library, Add MS 15282, f. 296v.

That's the legal bit out of the way. You can search our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts by keyword, search for a particular manuscript, explore our virtual exhibitions (such as the Royal collection of manuscripts, French illuminated manuscripts and the medieval bestiary), and search our glossaries of terms used when describing illuminated manuscripts and Hebrew manuscripts. Just think -- a simple search for "unicorn" produces no fewer than 34 results, including manuscripts made in England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland, Spain and Switzerland. Maybe in time you'll even be able to download images of our infamous unicorn cookbook.

A page from a 16th-century manuscript in Greek, showing an illustration of a unicorn.
Miniature of a unicorn, in Philes, De natura animalium (France, 16th century): London, British Library, Burney MS 97, f. 18r.

Let us know how you're using our images, either by sending a comment (via the link at the foot of this post) or tweeting us @BLMedieval. A selection will be publicized in a future blog-post.


I do medieval recreation/reenactment, and I like to use the BL images as inspiration for my illuminated/calligraphed texts.

I recently published an article on medieval wood pasture management ( and was excited to be able to use manuscript images from the BL Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts as part of the analysis. An acknowledgement of the BL's service in providing the image was included in the endnote for each figure. Thanks so much for providing this service to scholars!

I haven't used images in the sense of publishing them (except in an email to my daughter)

But I have become fascinated by the iconography in various calendars for the January "labor of the month"

Up until now, I never felt any need to join Pinterest, but am considering it just to help me keep track of these little vignettes.

Why January? Well, it all started with a little cat....

I've used bits for my site banner images at:

Well done. This is precisely the sort of thing that the national collection should be doing; enriching the culture of the nation of today by means of images from the public treasury of manuscripts.

Does this apply to the digitised Greek mss. that are going online as well?

I'm teaching a course on Arthurian literature, art and film from the Middle Ages to the present in October, and am using the image of Arthur from Royal 20 A. ii, f. 4 ( as the course image.

It's wonderful to have this readily available representation of Arthur from a medieval manuscript, and hopefully will serve to inspire my students not only in terms of an interest in Arthurian studies, but also manuscript studies too!

I've been on the lookout for an image that will make a good jigsaw puzzle, since hand-cut puzzles are my hobby. I do wish they gave us more pixels, though; it seems like the images are geared towards web, not print use.

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