Borders Used in Manuscript Illumination

Written by jennifer holmes
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  • Introduction

    Borders Used in Manuscript Illumination

    Manuscript illumination began around A.D. 200 and was very popular through the medieval era. Illuminations refer to the fine art of miniature pictures and border scrollwork, usually found in religious texts hand-produced by monks and nuns for many centuries until mechanical printing became widespread. Border illumination was an art form all its own, using any number of design styles incorporating gold leaf and, on occasion, silver leaf.

    The beauty of a medieval manuscript illumination with border design still enchants. ( Images)

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    Brief History

    Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance are four significant eras in the development of manuscript illumination. While general manuscript illumination consisted of religious pictures, figurative and decorative border styles were created to give the manuscript a richer finish by the use of different styles to enhance the pages. The artists who created the border work and secondary miniatures were known as limners and flourishers. The term "illumination" refers to the use of gold and silver leaf within the artistic picture as well as the border work.

    A book of hours was a collection of prayers and religious texts. ( Images)

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    Styles of Borders

    The different styles of border work are: inhabited, text decoration, scrollwork, filigree work, trellis work border, sprynget (spray work) and occasionally, grisaille, which is used more in English 15th-century illustration. The inhabited style is the use of letters and spray leaf-and-flower design in the borders but also refers to the use of small animal or human pictures.

    An example of border design in illuminated manuscripts. ( Images)

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    Text Decoration, Scroll and Filigree Work

    Text decoration was often used to enlarge the first capitalised letter on a written page but could also refer to coloured ruling and line-end enhancements. Scrollwork was the use of curved lines scrolling in and out of the border lines and in areas where enhancement was needed for a section of text. Filigree work, similar to scrollwork, made use of delicate designs, curving vines, leaves and branches to fill out areas of the borders.

    Filigree border style in an old manuscript is both delicate and elaborate. ( Images)

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    Trellis and Grisaille Design

    Trellis work borders made use of leaves, vines and flowers to denote the border around the text of an illuminated manuscript. Grisaille, found in late medieval illuminated manuscripts, used decorative or illustrated pictures in muted grey and brown with the slight addition of colour and occasionally gold. Once the printing press was developed and implemented in the 15th century, illumination was replaced by printed illustrations, which were easier to reproduce.

    A trellis border typically employed leaf and vine motifs. ( Images)

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