Insular Manuscript Illumination

The term Insular is derived from the Latin word insula, meaning "island". In this case, the adjective refers to the British Isles, specifically Britain and Ireland, and the scribes in monastic centers between the 6th and 10th centuries who developed a unique style of manuscript illumination. Some identifying features of Insular manuscripts are:

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  • Written in uncial script (uses all capital letters and is characterized by broad, single-stroke letters)
  • Display elaborate geometric and animal designs adapted from Celtic and Anglo-Saxon metalwork
  • Contains virtually no empty spaces and, instead, extensive patterns and colors fill nearly every available space on the page
  • Ornate, over-sized initials begin the Gospels and other important works
  • Use of "carpet pages", where ornamentation or decorative design fills the whole page
  • Integration of script, decoration and text
  • Use of bright colors that illuminate, or "light up", each and every page
  • The first manuscripts to use spaces between words to facilitate ease of reading
  • Played a significant role in the development of Romanesque art

Because the monks of the British Isles had little if any contact with the rest of Europe, they were free to come up with a distinctive manuscript illumination style.

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