Medieval manuscripts blog

07 November 2017

Illumination study day at the British Library

A couple of weeks ago we held a very successful study day for the University of the Third Age, with the British Library Learning Centre auditorium filled to capacity. We thought it might be helpful to provide a list of the British Library manuscripts and suggestions for further reading, for those who would like to look at the manuscripts again in more detail.

Illuminated manuscripts

Dr Alixe Bovey (Head of Research at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London) discussed 'The World in Illuminated Manuscripts'.  

Harley MS 7182, ff. 58v–59r, a depiction of the world based on Ptolemy’s Geography

Harley MS 3667, f. 8v, an Isidoran ‘T-O’ map of the world, Annals of Peterborough Abbey

Harley MS 2772, f. 70v, Macrobius, Commentary of Cicero’s Dream of Scipio

Egerton MS 2781, ff. 1v, 48r, 190r, the Neville of Hornby Hours: f.1v: diagram of the cosmos; f. 48r: the seasons; f. 190r: possible depiction of the manuscript’s owner

Harley MS 4940, f. 28r, Matfre Ermengau, Breviari d’amor, angels cranking the universe

Harley MS 4431, f. 187v, the Book of the Queen, a sibyl shows Christine de Pizan the firmament

Harley MS 3647, f. 32r, an astronomical miscellany

Royal MS 1 E VII, f. 1v, the Creation, in a Bible made at Canterbury

Add MS 18719, f. 1r, a Bible moralisée, Creation scenes

Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 1v, the Queen Mary Psalter, God and Lucifer

Add MS 18856, ff. 5v and 7v, a Bible historiale: f. 5v: creation of sun and moon; f. 7v: God resting

Harley MS 616, f. 1r, a Bible, Creation scenes

Royal MS 14 C IX, ff. 1v–2r, Ranulf Higden, Polychronicon, map

Harley MS 2633, f. 53v, commentary on Cicero's De somno Scipionis, mappa mundi

Sloane MS 2435, f. 1r, Aldobrandino of Siena, Le Régime du corps, Creation scene

Royal 2 b vi

Miniature of God holding a compass with angels and cherubins, and Lucifer with fallen angels and devils: Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 1v

Scribe and illuminator Patricia Lovett MBE gave us a calligrapher’s view on parchment, the preparation of pens, ink and pigments, and the writing and illumination process. Her recent publication includes lots of examples and discussion: The Art and History of Calligraphy (British Library, 2017).

Illuminated manuscripts 5


Dr Kathleen Doyle (Lead Curator, Illuminated Manuscripts, The British Library) focused on the different types of illustration in English Psalters.

Add MS 89250, the Mostyn Psalter

Add MS 42130, the Luttrell Psalter

Cotton MS Vespasian A I, the Vespasian Psalter

Cotton MS Tiberius C VI, the Tiberius Psalter

Cotton MS Nero C IV, the Winchester Psalter

Royal MS 2 B VII, the Queen Mary Psalter

Royal MS 2 A XVI, the Psalter of Henry VIII

Arundel MS 83, the Howard Psalter

Add MS 62925, the Rutland Psalter

Arundel MS 157, a Psalter


Illuminated initial 'Q'(uam) at the beginning of Psalm 83 (84), with a partial foliate border inhabited by a human-headed hybrid creature and geometric line fillers. In the lower margin are two naked wrestlers, one purple and one brown, engaged in a game of foot-wrestling: Add MS 42130, f. 152v


In the afternoon, Dr Mara Hofmann (Sotheby’s) gave us a whistle-stop tour of the highlights of French illuminated manuscripts. Mara has written a detailed guide with lots of examples, as part of the British Library’s online digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts virtual exhibition, available here

Illuminated manuscripts 2

The programme closed with Dr Scot McKendrick (Head of Western Heritage Collections at the British Library), who similarly illustrated the richness of Flemish Illuminated Manuscripts.

Add MS 34294, f. 133v, Gerard Horenbout, Virgin and Child in Glory, in the Hours of Bona Sforza

Add MS 18855, ff. 109r, 108v, Simon Bening, June, December

Royal MS 2 A XVIII, f. 11v, Master of Beaufort Saints, St Christopher, in the Beaufort/Beauchamp Hours

Add MS 89066/2, ff. 69v–70r, Loyset Liédet, Coronation of the Emperor Galba, in Vengeance de Nostre Seigneur

Harley MS 4418, f. 99r, Créquy Master, Christians fighting Saracens, in the Roman de Mélusine

Cotton MS Vespasian B I, f. 15r, Master of the Harley Froissart, Presentation to Philip the Good

Royal MS 14 E V, f. 29r, Master of the Getty Froissart, Fortune appearing to Boccaccio, in Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes

Add MS 71117, ff. C, J, Simon Marmion, St Matthew and David in Prayer, from the Hours of Ladislas IV Vasa

Add MS 38126, ff. 102v–103r, ff. 240v–241r, Simon Marmion, Virgin and Christ; Virgin and dead Christ, in the Huth Hours

Add MS 18851, ff. 41r, 437r, Gerard David, Adoration of the Kings, Coronation of the Virgin, in the Breviary of Isabella of Castile

Add MS 18852, ff. 411v–412r, St James the Greater, in the Hours of Joanna of Castile

Add MS 54782, f. 230r, Hastings Hours

Add MS 35313, ff. 89v–90r, Master of James IV of Scotland, Nativity and Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl, in the Rothschild Hours      

Add MS 17280, ff. 24v–25r, Master of the Dresden Prayer Book, Trinity and Monday Hours, in the so-called Hours of Philip the Fair    

Add MS 18852, ff. 14v-15r, Fall of Man and Mirror of Conscience, in the Hours of Joanna of Castile

Add MS 24098, f. 18v, Simon Bening, Month of December, in the Golf Book

Egerton MS 1147, f. 229r, Simon Bening (?), Agony in the Garden and Arrest of Christ

Add MS 12531, f. 4r, Portuguese Royal Genealogies

Royal MS 16 F II, f. 89r, Poems of Charles of Orleans

Royal MS 8 G VII, f. 2v, Collection of motets


Miniature with Christ praying on the Mount of Olives, accompanied by a full border with the Betrayal, at the beginning of the Passion of Christ: Egerton MS 1147, f. 229r


Further reading

Christopher de Hamel, Bibles: An Illustrated History from Papyrus to Print (Bodleian Library, 2011)

M. Kauffmann, Biblical Imagery in Medieval England 700-1500 (London, 2003)

Patricia Lovett, The Art and History of Calligraphy (British Library, 2017)

Scot McKendrick, Flemish Illuminated Manuscripts 1400-1550 (London: British Library, 2003)

Scot McKendrick & Kathleen Doyle, Bible Manuscripts: 1400 Years of Scribes and Scripture (London, 2007)

Scot McKendrick and Kathleen Doyle, The Art of the Bible: Illuminated Manuscripts from the Medieval World (London, Thames & Hudson, and the British Library, 2016)

The New Cambridge History of the Bible, 4 vols (Cambridge, 2012- )


Kathleen Doyle

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