Northern Renaissance Manuscript Illumination

The Renaissance, or Rinascimento in Italian, was undoubtedly one of the ages in human history in which arts, philosophy, literature and music reached their apex. Although the Renaissance ‘officially’ began in Italy, it soon spread across Europe: in the northern countries such as France, the county of Flanders and the Low Countries, it produced some of the finest examples of medieval manuscript illumination.

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The "swan-song" of medieval hand-written manuscripts before the advent of print, Northern-Renaissance books were chiefly made for private use. It is the golden age of the so-called "Book of Hours", the personal devotional booklet every nobleman or dame possessed and cherished. Northern-Renaissance codices were thus often small in size, easy to carry and extremely "custom-made". It is no surprise that often their possessors or those who had them made were depicted in these manuscripts.

The style of Northern-Renaissance illuminations is immediately recognizable. The viewer is immediately stricken by an explosion of detailed imagery. The often page-sized miniatures seem ‘buzzing’ with activity and the level of precision in which even the smallest of details is rendered is astounding. As in Flemish oil painting, Northern Renaissance miniatures reach a level or realistic description that would never be paralleled in the history of book illustration.

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