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COLOUR: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts

Edited by Stella Panayotova


This richly illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition that celebrates the bicentenary of the Fitzwilliam Museum and runs from 30 July until 30 December 2016. COLOUR displays the Fitzwilliam’s illuminated manuscripts, one of the finest and largest museum repositories in existence. It showcases the richness and diversity of the collection, and the advanced research it inspires. Of all medieval and Renaissance art works --  from sculptures, ivories, frescoes and stained glass to easel and wall paintings – it is manuscript illuminations, protected inside volumes, that best preserve the glowing colours and precious metals that would have dazzled their original spectators. 

Over 150 manuscripts, grouped in fourteen thematic sections, are discussed in the catalogue and presented in over 400 colour illustrations. These include microscopic details and infrared images revealing the artists’ methods of work. The manuscripts date from the 8th to the 19th century. They range from imposing Northumbrian and Carolingian monastic volumes to Renaissance Choir Books and from encyclopaedias commissioned by Europe’s ruling elite to private prayer books intended as wedding gifts or used to teach children to read. The main focus is on Western European illumination, but examples of Byzantine, Armenian, Persian and Sanskrit manuscripts are also presented. The majority of the exhibits are from the Museum’s collection, but special loans from other Cambridge, British and European collections are also included.

The fourteen thematic sections are introduced by essays written by an international team of experts. Their themes range from artists’ manuals to alchemical recipes, from vandalism and forgeries to conservation and digital reconstruction, and from medieval optics to cutting-edge scientific examination. The catalogue integrates innovative technical and art historical analyses of painting materials and techniques with studies on the artists and patrons involved in the manuscripts’ production. Scientific identifications of the pigments’ chemical composition and methods of application are considered alongside their aesthetic impact as well as the multiple dimensions and meanings of colour appreciated by medieval and Renaissance viewers.


Available for purchase online at the Fitzwilliam Museum shop.


First published in 2016 by Harvey Miller Publishers, an Imprint of Brepols

£30.00 / ISBN 978-1-909400-57-3