Sac History Happenings

News and developments in Sacramento and California history

March 16, 2012
Illuminated Manuscripts at the State Library

1005.JPGIlluminated manuscripts are hand-written manuscripts whose texts are embellished with elaborate decoration. The purest definition of this term involves illustration done in gold or silver, but it has expanded to include other handwritten texts accompanied by decorative design. This is a primarily Western tradition (although similar styles existed in the Far Eastern and Islamic worlds and are usually referred to by different names) and dates back to late Antiquity, when illuminated manuscripts were responsible for preserving much Greek and Roman literature that might otherwise have been lost. The majority of the surviving illuminated manuscripts date from the middle ages and are primarily religious in nature. This tradition lasted into the Renaissance as well.    


During the mid 19th century, artists became interested in imitating the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages. Now on display in a new exhibit-Illumination and Color Printing During the Victorian Era-in the State Library's first floor gallery are several rare examples from this Gothic Revival era in which artists decorated manuscripts with gold, silver, and other bright colors produced from semi-precious stones. With the introduction of chromolithography or printing in color, publishers could produce in quantity spectacular reproductions of this attractive form of page decoration made to look like the page leaves created by the monks and scribes of the 10th - 14th centuries.  In addition, Illumination and Color Printing During the Victorian Era includes books ranging from a late Middle Ages Horae or Book of Hours to the spectacular Arion Press 2000 Millennium Bible with original illuminated initials created by noted calligrapher Thomas Ingmire of San Francisco, as well as examples of books actually bound in papier mâché and made to look like carved wooden bindings from the Middle Ages. Illumination and Color Printing During the Victorian Era will be on exhibit until April 30.


In conjunction with this exhibit, this month's A Night at the California State Library program will feature "Illuminated Manuscripts" with internationally known antiquarian bookseller John Windle. Windle specializes in illuminated manuscripts, early and fine printings, and illustrated books. He will be discussing the history and making of illuminated manuscripts, and the State Library's History Librarian Emeritus, Gary F. Kurutz, will present rare pieces from the California State Library's collection and the stories behind them. A Night at the California State Library will take place Wednesday, March 21. The doors open at 5PM, and the presentation begins at 6PM. The State Library is located at 900 N Street in Sacramento. If you wish to attend, please RSVP to Rebecca Ann Fontaine at or 916-653-9942. Light refreshments are generously sponsored by the California State Library Foundation.1007.JPG

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About Sac History Happenings

California and Sacramento have a long, rich, vibrant history. And our region is blessed with an abundance of historical resources maintained by museums, libraries, archives and societies. This blog aims to alert readers to the latest developments in local/state historical education and research.

Send tips concerning upcoming exhibits, tours, lectures and meetings, as well as new books, magazine articles and online collections to the blog's contributors.

The Contributors:

Michael Dolgushkin

Michael Dolgushkin is Manuscript Librarian at the California State Library History Section. He is co-author of San Francisco's California Street Cable Cars and is a frequent contributor to the California State Library Foundation Bulletin. Contact him at

Amanda Graham

Amanda Graham is a Certified Archivist working in the Sacramento Room of the Sacramento Public Library. She earned a BS in History from Southern Oregon University and a MS in Information Studies with an emphasis in archives from The University of Texas at Austin. Contact her at

Pete basofin

Pete Basofin is Director of Editorial Research at The Sacramento Bee. He previously worked at The St. Petersburg Times and Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune. Contact him at

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