Medieval manuscripts blog

01 March 2022

GOLD tickets go on sale

Tickets are now on sale for our upcoming exhibition, Gold. Bringing together fifty spectacular items from around the world, this exhibition explores the use of gold in books and documents across cultures.

For thousands of years, people have found all kinds of ways to incorporate gold into books and documents: gold writing, inscriptions on gold surfaces, gold-illuminated pictures, gold book covers. So intrinsic was gold to the craft of luxury book production that manuscript decoration is known as ‘illumination’ from the use of gold to light up the pages. 

An illuminated manuscript page with figures against a gold background
Gold illumination in the Queen Mary Psalter, London, early 14th century: Royal MS 2 B vii, f. 68r

Gold has long been considered deeply meaningful. Its extraordinary appearance means that many religions around the world have found gold a fitting way to express the divine. As a rare luxury material, gold was adopted by rulers to convey political messages about their power and wealth.

Gold plates inscribed with Buddhist texts written in Pali language
Maunggan gold plates inscribed with Buddhist texts written in Pali language, Myanmar, 5th-6th centuries: Or 5340 A & Or 5340 B

The exhibition will explore the different techniques employed by craftspeople to incorporate gold into books, including gold leaf (applying thin gold foil), shell gold (painting with powdered gold, which was traditionally kept in seashells), and gold-tooled leather bindings. 

An illuminated manuscript page with figures against a gold background
Gold illumination in the Golden Haggadah, Northern Spain, probably Barcelona, c.1320: Add MS 27210, f. 5r

It will showcase books and documents from twenty countries, seventeen languages, and five major world religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism. Exhibits range from 5th/6th-century inscribed gold plates from Myanmar to a 1920s art deco gold-tooled binding from France. There will be plenty of splendid medieval manuscripts on display, including the Harley Golden Gospels made in Germany around 800, which is written entirely in gold ink, and the Golden Haggadah made in Spain around 1320, renowned for its gold-illuminated scenes from Genesis and Exodus. 

The Latin text of the gospels written in gold ink
Gold script in the Harley Golden Gospels, Carolingian Empire, c. 800: Harley MS 2788, f. 25v

Gold will be open at the British Library from Friday 20 May - Sunday 2 Oct 2022. You can pre-book your tickets online now.

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval 

Supported by: 

BullionVault name logo - 199w

The exhibition is supported by the Goldhammer Foundation and the American Trust for the British Library, with thanks to The John S Cohen Foundation, The Finnis Scott Foundation, the Owen Family Trust and all supporters who wish to remain anonymous. 

.