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Labors of Love

Dear Friends:

The Academy has had a wonderful year and brought it labors to the end of May as some students will take the summer to regroup and finish the unfinished.  We have enjoyed working with many new students who bring their enthusiasm to the classes.  We thank you all for your dedication and hard work and look forward to seeing you at our summer workshop in Lexington, Kentucky or in the fall workshops in Sarasota.

Next Fall, Academy of Botanical Art Students will be joining Academy Instructor Liz Trotsli  for a course of the Illuminated Letter which is why I now take the opportunity to present some historical background on illuminated manuscripts.  This is a beautiful art form and combined with calligraphy produces exquisite results.  You may want to join us, so be sure to watch our blog site for upcoming class dates.  We look forward to seeing you soon.  God bless. OM



The Book of Hours was created in the late Middle Ages as a devotional book.  There are many such books containing similar texts, prayers, and psalms but it is the illuminated portion of these manuscripts that makes one stand out over another.  The more lavishly illustrated books were made for wealthy patrons and usually written in Latin, although some were written in  in the local dialects of the European, and mid-eastern languages.

The illuminated manuscripts, from the 12th to the first third of the 16th centuries provided historical chronicles, novels and scholarly treatises, translations of antique authors, and also included Biblical and liturgical manuscripts.  Manuscript books produced for kings and great aristocrats were written and decorated by the finest calligraphers and artists of the age. The most famous book of hours was given to Mary, Queen of Scots by her uncle, the Duc de Guise, when she was still betrothed to the Dauphin, the future Frances II. It was created and beautifully illuminated in France in the second quarter of the 15th century. One particularly beautiful Book of Hours is the 15th century manuscript ‘Grands Chroniques de France’. It was created in 1455-1457 for the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, who vied with the French king for wealth and power.

The 15th century Marian Book of Hours has all the characteristics of the golden age of French manuscript illumination: in the landscapes and perspective, the light and the color of the draperies with details highlighted in gold, and gold backgrounds to the borders. The rich decoration of the margin includes foliage and a variety of fruits and flowers, animals and human figures.  It has an obvious feeling for nature.  The lower parts of the calendar pages, as in many 15th century books of hours, bear country scenes appropriate to the corresponding months; these are an important documentary source, and confirmation of the artistic excellence of this Book of Hours.

Manuscript books were tediously but carefully written by hand, each page with unique initials and decoration. The creation of an illuminated manuscript was complex and required the joint labors of professional scribes to write the text in scripts of their time and artists to illuminate the pages with decorated initials and foliated borders. Vellum of soft, unblemished calf, goat or sheepskin was scraped to an even thinness and smoothed with pumice stone until flexible, opaque and white. The sheets were ruled leaving spaces for initials and the text carefully copied with a quill in uniform calligraphy. The scribe would often write the initial letter of a chapter or prayer larger in red called rubrics. Decoration was added to the borders and initials with pen work flourishes and branch extenders in colors of Gold. Pigments used by the Medieval Painter were the rich, dark blue of lapis lazuli or azurite, vermilion red, verdigris and malachite green.

If you live in or near New York City, or are planning a summer trip there, you might want to explore the fabulous collection of 12th to 16th century illuminated manuscripts and the romantic medieval times at the The Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, (212) 685-0008.  The Morgan collections made possible the rise and development of manuscript studies in the United States. There you will find an enormous collection gathered by John Pierpont Morgan, his son John Pierpont Morgan, Jr. and his devoted Librarian, Belle da Costa Greene.

According to the Morgan Library website, “The collection is made up primarily of Western manuscripts, with French being the largest single national group, followed by Italian, English, German, and Belgian. The collection also has significant examples of Armenian, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopian, Arabic, and Persian manuscripts. More than fifty Coptic manuscripts found in Hamouli, Egypt, nearly all of which are in their original bindings, form the oldest and most important group of Sahidic manuscripts from a single provenance, the Monastery of St. Michael at Sôpehes.

Apart from the earlier papyri, the collection ranges from the fifth century to the Renaissance. For the earlier periods, many of the most important monastic centers are represented, such as those at Reims, Tours, Canterbury, and Salzburg.

The majority of these books are of a religious nature, but the collection also includes important works of the classical authors, scientific manuscripts dealing with astronomy and medicine, and practical works on agriculture, hunting, and warfare. Although the collection is known principally for its illuminated manuscripts, it also includes significant unilluminated manuscripts, such as the earliest surviving portion of the letters of Pliny the Younger (Rome, late fifth century) and the earliest surviving witness to the Fables of Phaedrus (France, ninth century). Medieval music is represented mostly by liturgical books, such as Antiphonaries, Graduals, and Hymnals, but also includes seven troubadour songs with music by the celebrated Martín Codax.

The Library also possesses a small but choice collection of Islamic and Indian manuscripts and single miniatures. Pierpont Morgan acquired only about twenty of these, but later additions brought the total to about 130. Belle Greene’s personal collection of manuscripts, bequeathed to the Library in 1950, was almost entirely Islamic.


Morgan Manuscript Series collection is organized into six series or subcollections.

1.  Morgan manuscripts  (The greatest of the collection and acquired primarily by Pierpont Morgan and his son):

  • Lindau Gospels
  • the Life of St. Edmund
  • the Berthold Sacramentary
  • Old Testament Miniatures
  • the Hours of Catherine of Cleves
  • the Farnese Hours

The following five collections consist were given to the Library.

2. Glazier manuscripts (from William S. Glazier 1907-1962) This collection covers a thousand years, from the fifth to the sixteenth century; two-thirds of the manuscripts date before 1400. The collection includes

  • Coptic Acts of the Apostles
  • the Chelles Sacramentary
  • the Salzburg Lectionary
  • the Hachette Psalter and
  • the finest illustrated manuscript of Der Wälsche Gast

3. Heineman manuscripts (from the Dannie 1872-1962 and Hettie Heineman)

  • Pontifical illuminated by Attavante for Pope Leo X in 1521 and
  • the Hours of Henry VIII, a masterpiece illuminated by Jean Poyet

4.  Bühler manuscripts (Dr. Curt F. Bühler 1905-1985) consist of sixty-one medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, including the late-fifteenth-century Neapolitan cookbook.

5.  Stillman manuscripts (E. Clark Stillman 1907-1995) consits of twenty-one manuscripts, many that reflect Mr. Stillman’s devotion to the Low Countries and their art.

6.  Wightman manuscripts (Julia Parker Wightman 1909-1994). Included in her extraordinary library of fine bindings, children’s books, and illustrated books are seventy-three manuscripts. More than half the manuscripts are Islamic or Indian, but the collection also contains Books of Hours, documents, and some Ethiopian manuscripts.

7.  Papyri –  In 1912 Morgan acquired the collections of Egyptian, Coptic, and Greek papyri assembled by Lord Amherst of Hackney. The collection includes The Ascension of Isaiah and other biblical and early church fragments as well as classical documents from the Ptolemaic, Roman, and Byzantine eras, and most of the papyri found at Nessana by the Colt Archaeological Institute in 1937.

CORSAIR, the Morgan’s online collection catalog, is a single database providing unified access to over 250,000 records for medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, rare and reference books, literary and historical manuscripts, music scores, ancient seals and tablets, drawings, prints, and other art objects. About 95 percent of the Morgan’s holdings are represented in the catalog.  It is available here.

Other libraries contain wonderful collections of manuscripts.  Here are a dozen good links to see these extraordinary collections.  You can find them here:

  1. Bodlein Library in Oxford, England:
  2. J.Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California:
  3. British Library London, England:
  4. The Arizona Library in Tuscon:
  5. Princeton University Library, Princeton, New Jersey:
  6. Koninklijke Bibliotheek – National library of the Netherlands:
  7. Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois.
  8. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
  9. University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida.
  10. The Huntington Library, San Marino, California:
  11. The Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut.
  12. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England.



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