Illuminations - a Lost Art Form
The art of illumination is - as defined in our times - decoration of printed or hand-lettered text used on some manuscripts or printed works. Earlier definitions of illuminations involved only those decorations that were enhanced with laminated or painted gold or silver, because they reflected light; thus, the name. The art of illuminating probably goes back further than 400 AD, but nothing significant is found that is dated before that time.
Illumination - which seems to have started in Italy - has typically been done by hand, and in “codex” documents, or the type of book typically produced today, with the pages bound together on one edge. When Gutenberg printed the Bible in German back in 1450, he first tried putting all illuminations through the printing process. But it seemed to present more problems than if he just had them done manually.
A close look at the Gutenberg Bible shows that they were mostly done by hand, as each one is shown to have its own productive identity. In addition, there is evidence that different artists from a variety of geographical influences worked on those illuminations. Thus, the Gutenberg Bible is exquisitely unique in two or more ways: 1) The illuminations were done by hand, and 2) this Bible represents the first major work done with moveable type, which Gutenberg invented.
These details, and the fact that only 22 surviving Gutenberg Bibles exist, puts an insanely high value on one of these books: It’s estimated to be about 100 million dollars!
Even facsimiles are costly: Gutenberg facsimile Bibles from Paris are advertised at $9.5 thousand.
Illumination is not just limited to Christian literature. They are found in oriental works, Muslim books, pieces from India, and books covering secular themes, to name a few; and they are mostly antiques. If any of you out there has a book that has illuminations - even if they’re produced by printing, you may be sitting on a pile of gold.
A few very nice hubs have been written to show more detailed illuminations, and their history. To see them, follow these links: