02 April, 2008

Illuminated manuscripts - Melbourne

The Medieval Imagination
Illuminated manuscripts from Cambridge, Australia and New Zealand
Free exhibition at the State Library of Victoria
28 March - 15 June 2008

Discover the rich beauty of medieval and early Renaissance illuminated manuscripts at this magnificent exhibition, featuring treasures from the University of Cambridge and its colleges and from Australian and New Zealand collections.

It is the first collaborative exhibition of manuscripts on this scale to be seen in Australia and will only be shown at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne.

The exhibition opens to the public on Friday 28 March 2008 with over 90 manuscripts from the 8th to the 16th centuries on display including examples of deluxe book production from Byzantium, England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. Each is a unique and beautifully handcrafted object with a rich history.

The exhibition is being supported by a public program of activities and events including lectures, talks and musical performances by e21, Early Voices and La Romanesca. These activities are proving extremely popular and bookings are required to ensure your place.

In association with the exhibition Readers Feast Bookstore has also opened a special exhibition shop stocking over 600 titles on sale about medieval subjects including history, culture, art, architecture, religion and literature. A selection of these titles are available online at http://www.readersfeast.com.au/index_mi.html

The exhibition catalogue is a lavishly illustrated 288 page book published by MacMillan Art Publishing in association with the State Library of Victoria. It is available at the special price of $59.95 at the Readers Feast shop in the library foyer or online at

State Library of Victoria
328 Swanston Street

Among the rare works on display are:

an 8th-century Northumbrian Gospel Book, whose illumination is closely related to that of the famous Lindisfarne Gospels - from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

a 14th-century illuminated Apocalypse with over 90 illustrations, together with 24 coloured drawings of the life of St Edward, added in the early 15th century - from Trinity College, Cambridge

a 14th-century French copy of the famous allegorical poem Le Roman de La Rose - from Cambridge University Library

outstanding examples of 16th-century Netherlandish illumination in a group of leaves from a set of church Choir Books and from a Book of Hours of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg - from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

a history of the Roman emperors which was made for renowned Florentine arts patron Lorenzo de' Medici. It features Lorenzo's arms and insignia on the opening page, and over 80 medallion portraits of the emperors - from the State Library of Victoria

a splendidly illuminated Gospel Book from 12th-century Constantinople - from the National Gallery of Victoria

a treatise on music by Boethius, illuminated in the 12th century and once belonging to the medieval library of Christ Church, Canterbury - from the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington

a richly illuminated Breviary from Renaissance Perugia - from the Auckland City Libraries.

Each manuscript on display is a unique and beautifully handcrafted object. In many cases the script is enhanced with intricate embellishments and illustrated with beautiful paintings known as miniatures. Although centuries old, their colours remain remarkably fresh and brilliant. The gold leaf and costly pigments which adorn many manuscripts have given rise to the term ’illumination’. (Today, this term refers to all decoration and illustration in medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, even simple pen and ink drawings.)

In addition to a wealth of information on art and learning, the manuscripts provide a fascinating insight into the life and times of the medieval and Renaissance periods. Many feature beautiful and detailed paintings which illustrate the people and customs of the medieval world – often in a whimsical or humorous manner. In the lavishly decorated pages of these centuries-old masterpieces, the medieval world comes to life in glowing colour, highlighted with precious gold and silver.


audio tour

The Medieval Imagination Education Resource (PDF - 2MB)

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