illumination

The Golden Age of Illumination

Paris was the birthplace of new ideas in book ornamentation at the beginning of the 13th cent. Picture and text were more closely integrated. The most striking quality of the Gothic miniatures was their parallel to stained glass windows in the use of similar colors, drawing, and medallion frameworks. Book size decreased, initials were expanded, and grotesque little monsters and drolleries appeared in the margins.

Lay schools emerged in the 14th cent., directed by individual artists, such as Maître Honoré and Jean Pucelle. Gold fields were replaced by colored and landscape backgrounds, although colors were sometimes abandoned for grisaille, as in the Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux (c.1325; Metropolitan Mus.) by Jean Pucelle.

Greater realism and a wealth of ornament in the margins can be seen in the works done in the early 15th cent. for the duc de Berry by the Burgundian court artists André Beauneveu, Jacquemart de Hesdin, and the Limbourg brothers. The epitome of elegance was reached in the Très riches heures du duc de Berry (Chantilly) by the Limbourg brothers, showing a fusion of the refined Parisian style with the more realistic art of Flanders and also the influence of Italian panel painting.

Other notable works of the 15th cent. include the Hours of Catherine of Cleves (c.1428–45; Morgan Library) and illuminations of the Master of Mary of Burgundy (Bodleian, Oxford). The Boucicaut Master also made notable contributions. From the region of Tours came the highly accomplished Hours of Étienne Chevalier (Chantilly) by Jean Fouquet and the work of his pupil Jean Bourdichon. In England the early 14th-century art of illumination was nearly indistinguishable from that of France, e.g. Queen Mary's Psalter (British Mus.).

Italy was an important center of illumination in the 15th and 16th cent. Among those who worked as illuminators were Fra Angelico, Mantegna (briefly), Liberale da Verona, and Giulio Clovio. In general, illuminations were no longer closely related to the text but became little paintings in Renaissance frames. The decline of the art of the miniature was made inevitable by the invention of the printing press, and toward the end of the 15th cent. wood-block prints began to replace painted illumination.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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