How does one judge what is a beautiful medieval manuscript? In our case we turn to an expert: Giovanni Scorcioni, co-founder of Facsimile Finder, the leading provider of facsimile editions of medieval manuscripts and books.
Based out of Italy, Giovanni has spent almost a decade looking through hundreds of medieval works in facsimile, and here is the list of his favourite manuscripts chosen from the most beautiful that were made in the Middle Ages.
1) Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton MS Nero D IV › British Library)
The Lindisfarne Gospels doesn’t need many words of introduction: it’s one of the finest works in the unique style of Hiberno-Saxon or Insular art, combining Mediterranean, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic elements.
2) Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux (Acc., No. 54.1.2 › Metropolitan Museum of Art)
All miniatures are in demi-grisaille, a painting technique using mainly shades of grey and coloring for the figures’ face and hands. The surprising amount of details that can be fit in such small space is outstanding.
3) Godescalc Evangelistary (Ms. Nouv. acq. lat. 1203 › Bibliothèque Nationale de France)
Why is this manuscript so important? In the words of Godescalc himself:
Golden words are painted [here] on purple pages,
The Thunderer’s shining kingdoms of the starry heavens,
Revealed in rose-red blood, disclose the joys of heaven,
And the eloquence of God glittering with fitting brilliance
Promises the splendid rewards of martyrdom to be gained.
4) Prayerbook of Claude de France (MS M. 1166 › Morgan Library & Museum)
In the words of Roger Wieck, curator of manuscripts at the Morgan Library: “An artistic triumph…” The personalized prayer book of the French queen Claude de France enchants us especially by its delicate paintings in a charmingly small format of 69 x 49 mm, and even more so by the unusual wealth of illustration it contains.
5) St. Alban’s Psalter (MS St. God. 1 › Dombibliothek Hildesheim; Inv. No. M694 › Schnütgen Museum Köln)
The lavish miniatures and painted initials form such an expressive and lively colored decoration that one can imagine them moving to the rhythm of music: a fantastic picture gallery from the heyday of English book illumination.
6) Westminster Abbey Bestiary (Ms. 22 › Westminster Abbey Library)
Out of all the Bestiaries, the Westminster is considered to be one of the most beautiful and richly decorated bestiaries in the world, and is full of all kinds of incredible descriptions, legends and myths.
7) Vienna Genesis (Codex Theol. Gr. 31 › Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)
It is the most ancient purple manuscript surviving today. The fragment of the Genesis (from the Greek Septuagint translation) is compiled in golden and silver ink, on a beautifully purple-dyed calfskin vellum. Each page contains a lavish miniature depicting the text, for a total of 48 well-preserved images.
8) Black Hours (M. 493 › Morgan Library & Museum)
The Black Hours is a product of unequalled luxury. All 121 vellum folios are stained in black. To make the writing stand out against the dark background, only white lead and opaque paints were used for the miniatures, and gold and silver ink for the script. Only three of these black parchment manuscripts survive to this day.
9) Morgan Crusader Bible (Ms M.638 › Morgan Library & Museum; Ms Nouv. Acq. Lat. 2294 › Bibliothèque Nationale de France; Ms Ludwig 16 83. M.A. 55 › Getty Museum)
In this manuscript history is depicted in great detail, without any text and recalls the Creation of the world, the Righteous Wars and the deeds of the most important characters of the Old Testament. The Crusader’s Bible fascinates through its rich and refined gold embellishment which comes to enhance the luminosity of the colors.
10) Grimani Breviary (Ms. I, 99=2138 › Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana)
A monumental witness to the splendor of Flemish art produced during the Renaissance. Perhaps an outstanding features of this manuscript is the choice of motifs, which alternate between religious and lay themes.
Our thanks to Giovanni for sharing his list of the most beautiful medieval manuscripts made in facsimile with us.
It’s worth mentioning that Giovanni has just disclosed to us that FacsimileFinder.com has recently undergone a complete renovation and the new website will be published next week, just in time for the Frankfurt Book Fair!
We were able to get a little scoop and show you the revamped logo in advance: the little owl is named Athena, cute, isn’t she?
You can subscribe to his “Bookplate” newsletter, where he talks more about these books and offers fascinating insights into the Middle Ages.
You can also learn more about medieval manuscripts:
A Broken Book of Hours – Saving a Medieval Manuscript
Illuminated Manuscripts: Art and Science
Manuscripts: The Archaeolozoology of Animal Skin
Images of Castles from Medieval Manuscripts