The Art of the Book today can refer to a variety of art objects, from books of individual artists filled with their work to art inspired by the codicological form to sculpture built from physical books. Book Arts, especially imagery paired with writing, dates to the very origin of the codex. Historically, imagery and decoration were reserved for special, deluxe books. Imagery in these books could be much more than literal illustration, illuminating ideas and concepts outside of the text or transporting viewers into distant realms.
The Douce Apocalypse is one of the most vibrantly illuminated medieval manuscripts. Made in England for King Edward I and his queen in the 13th c., its elegant, courtly style turns the New Testament’s Book of Revelation into a chivalric adventure. Interestingly, although it was unfinished, it was still bound and used, testifying to the value of books in the Middle Ages. Its unfinished state also gives a fascinating insight onto the process of book and image making. The importance of imagery in the reception of a manuscript is nicely demonstrated by the Cantigas de Santa Maria, made in Spain in the 13th c. Here, panels show intricate visualizations of the Marian miracles described in the songs.
Made of parchment, or treated animal skin, and bound between wooden boards often covered with hand-tooled leather, even unillustrated manuscripts were treasured objects. These books were carefully passed from one owner to the next. This owner lineage can often be traced through markings, as can be seen in the Hours of Isabella of Castile, a book commissioned as a gift to the queen in the late 15th c. In addition to full-size images, lavish decoration embellishes the text with elaborate and vibrantly colored foliate borders.