Illuminated manuscripts light up medieval monarchs

Wed Aug 24, 2011 5:36pm EDT
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By Alice Baghdjian

LONDON (Reuters) - Flecks of gold and vibrant swirls of royal blue grace the pages of illuminated royal manuscripts at the British Library in London, which will shortly go on show to the public.

The 150 manuscripts in the exhibition represent the most stunning pieces from the library's collection, the largest group of medieval manuscripts in Britain and one of the most important in the world.

"The manuscripts contain tens of thousands of the best medieval decorative and figurative paintings, which are as vivid as they were when they were first painted," said Scot McKendrick, head of history and classical studies at the British Library.

The richly-colored exhibition will span the period between the eighth and 16th century, displaying images that have remained encased within the tomes for hundreds of years, protected from light and dirt.

The artifacts range from the depiction of the lineage of English kings across five meters of parchment scrolls to a dynamic illustration of Alexander the Great slaying dragons.

An image of King David shines out from the Westminster Psalter, created in 1200 and on loan from Westminster Abbey, plucking the strings of a flashing golden harp.

And a 13th century map by Matthew Paris, one of the foremost English historians of the Middle Ages, plots the pilgrimage route from London through France and Italy to Jerusalem, finishing with a map of the Holy Land featuring crusaders' castles, churches, and even a camel.

"When we selected the manuscripts to go on display, we tried to pick those which were visually very strong and had a very strong art element," Kathleen Doyle, curator of illuminated manuscripts at the British Library, said.   Continued...

<p>An illuminated manuscript from the British Library is seen in a handout photo. REUTERS/British Library/Handout</p>