Before the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, books were handwritten. Imagine… every time a copy of a text needed to be made, someone had to do it painstakingly by hand. In our world of quick reproductions and the ease of hitting “print”, this can be hard to believe!
The exhibition The Art of Devotion: Illuminated Manuscripts from Local Collections, on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum through June 16, 2019, aims to provide an introduction to these handwritten texts–called manuscripts–that were made in the middle ages and early Renaissance. A good number of those manuscripts are also illuminated, or decorated with gold, silver, and bright colors that make them literally look like they shine from within.
Ornamenting the Christian Bible and related texts reflected their holiness, as revealing the teachings of God. Monks and nuns would make the books in a scriptorium—or copying room—as a type of religious devotion. By the fourteenth century, commercial scriptoriums fulfilled the demand for books made by the aristocrats and nobles who commissioned them not only to use in private devotion but also to display their great wealth. As you can imagine, this leads to amazing and beautiful books!