Illuminated 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