Culture and Recreation

Printing Methods

How old is the oldest illuminated manuscript?

The oldest painted manuscript known is the Vatican Vergil, which dates to the early fifth century A.D. The content is pagan, representing a scene from Roman poet Virgil’s (70–19 B.C.) Geórgica, his verses idealizing country life and nature. But illuminated manuscripts were typically renderings of sacred texts. When the fathers of the Eastern Church advised that pictures could be used in books and art to teach people, the decorations and pictures (called illuminations since they were meant to illuminate, or make clear, the text) took on great importance. Since the beauty of the manuscript was meant to represent the spiritual beauty of the text (usually gospels, psalms, prayers, or meditations), sacred books became increasingly ornamental. Some “books of hours,” devotional books developed during the 1300s, are considered masterpieces of illumination. The works (c. 1409–16) of Belgian illuminators Pol, Hermann, and Jehanequin Limburg represent the height of painted religious manuscripts.


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