Rare Book of the Month, November 2013

November’s Rare Book is, as you can imagine from the title, is a beautifully illustrated tome:

The Art of Illuminating as Practised in Europe from the Earliest Times

The book was published in London on 2nd April 1860 by Day & Son, Lithographers to the Queen (that would be Victoria).

At the beginning of the book there is an essay and instructions by M. Digby Wyatt, Architect, entitled The Art of Illuminating: what is it, what is should be and how it may be practised.

Part I of the essay is a detailed reference guide to the history and use of illumination from the Roman’s creation and use of parchment and black and red ink, through the work of mediaeval monks and other scribes, to the 17th Century where illumination began to die out due to the growing popularity and use of the printing press.

Part II gives guidance on the practical side of illuminating. What is to be decorated, eg. vellum, canvas, plaster, wood, how to design an illumination including scale, style and the harmony of colouring of the letters and ornament and how to apply the art to different surfaces. A selection of ‘Legends’ (suitable wording depending on location of the illumination) are also included and make for fascinating reading: Page 61 suggests “For Supper-Rooms: As men do walk a mile, women should talk an hour after supper: ’tis their exercise.” (Armstrong, Art of Preserving Health)

Part III discusses processes and application eg ‘How a picture is ornamented in books with tin and saffron’ Page 73 and a fascinating and comprehensive chapter on ‘Ink’ Page 75.

There are 99 beautiful colour plates, with examples of illustrated borders, initial letters and alphabets from the 6thto the 14th Century, selected and chromolithographed by W.R. Tymms.

Not only is this tome a history of illumination but is also a practical guide on how to create your very own illuminated art work in the most traditional of ways.

This book would most definitely be of interest to fine artists and illustrators.

It is available in the Rare Books Collection in Farnham UCA Library.

 

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