Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination

feast of Belshazzar

feast of Belshazzar

An illiterate King is like a crowned ass. – John of Salisbury

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination is an exhibition of Royal Manuscripts at the British Museum. But please do not even think of ordering tickets on-line as to do so is a nightmare.

On-line tickets for British Museum exhibition

The nightmare continues when you arrive. Tickets for a concert by The Sixteen that evening, explicitly gave admission to the exhibition. But not according to the guardian on the door. No you cannot gain access, you have to buy your tickets, your tickets are for this evening only. Absolutely ridiculous, but common sense did eventually prevail, with apologies from the British Library.

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination runs from 11 November 2011 to 13 March 2012, with associated talks, a concert by early music group The Sixteen and a three part series on BBC Four, Illuminations: The Private Lives of Medieval Kings.

The British Library’s unique collection of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts. Collected by the kings and queens of England over 800 years these treasures are outstanding examples of the decorative and figurative painting of the era. Together they are our most vivid source for understanding royal identity, moral and religious beliefs, learning, faith artistic trends and the international politics of the period.

Books within books. Athelstan shown reading a book, Athelstan shown giving St Cuthbert a book.

Note: The St Cuthbert Bible is on display in an adjacent semi-permanent exhibition which sadly we had no time to look round. The St Cuthbert Bible is only on loan and will be lost to the nation if funds are not found to purchase. [see St Cuthbert’s Bible]

Strong link between art, books, Kings and religion (the great monastic houses).

Books were revered.

Athelstan the first King to have his image in a book. Athelstan, the Anglo-Saxon King who united the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to form one kingdom, England

Edgar, had a book written by the monks of Winchester, the pages are written in gold! The king holding a book, a gold book, probably the book written in gold.

Being in the good books, had a quite literal meaning. The Anglo-Saxon monks of Winchester kept a register. If your name was listed, you would be called by Christ to enter Heaven,

I never knew Cnut was entombed at Winchester. Not quite what one would expect for a Danish King. But then would you expect Napoleon II and Empress Eugenie to be entombed in Farnborough Abbey, guarded by French Benedictine monks.

The illuminations are amazing to look at. Many of the books are huge.

The British Library has created a set of facebook albums of the illuminated manuscripts, together with detailed notes. Please feel free to share on your facebook wall and with that of your friends.

A lot to take in, after an hour or so, my head began to spin.

The books were commissioned by Kings, given as presents, received as spoils of war.

Bibles, history of the Bible or Bible historiale, history of the world, an early encyclopedia, instructions on princely behaviour, music, an atlas commissioned by Henry VIII opened at a page showing Brazil.

The Bible Histories tell Biblical stories, but the beauty of the illustrations are the clothes of the day of the illustrator.

These manuscripts are usually locked away in the vaults. We were lucky to see them. After the exhibition ends, it will be a long time before they see the light of day again. If you are able to, make the effort to visit as it is well worth it.

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination
Illuminations: The Private Lives of Medieval Kings
My Name is Red

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