ARTH 100-302
The Art of the Medieval Book
Instructor: Dr. Ransom
M 2-5


Almost everyone has had the experience of opening a favorite book and becoming lost inside its pages. In the Middle Ages, this experience of the book was especially acute. Until the invention of printing in the fifteenth century, medieval books were written and decorated by hand. Each handmade book (or manuscript) was thus a unique world of its own. Manuscripts could be, and often were, elaborated with decoration and illustration reflecting the individual needs, tastes, and/or economic and social status of their intended readers. Even though several manuscripts might share the same text, external circumstances dictated the text would be presented in different ways to the reader. For example, a ninthcentury bible made for the great Carolingian emperor Charlemagne shares little in appearance and function with a bible produced in the thirteenth century for a university student in Paris.

This course will examine the nature of medieval manuscripts, with special emphasis given to the
practice of "illumination," the art of medieval manuscript decoration. We will examine different forms of illumination from the beginning of the Middle Ages to the invention of printing, looking specifically at
the role that illumination played in shaping the readers experience. Much time will be devoted to visiting manuscript collections in the Philadelphia area, to learn first hand how these books were made and what it
was like to read them.

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Last update: June 14, 2005

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