Manuscripts: Turning the Pages at the Art Institute of Chicago

Before the invention of printing, books were written, illustrated, and copied by hand. The Art Institute owns over a hundred European illuminated manuscripts, and as many manuscript cuttings from the thirteenth into the sixteenth century. Listed below are two of our most unusual of these manuscripts.
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Enigmatic and extraordinary, James Castle was a self-taught artist who was deaf and mute from birth, but created his own visual language through his drawings, books and three-dimensional constructions. Like many of his artworks, Untitled (Book), reacts to the graphic elements of found paper advertisements, which he liberally augmented with his trademark soot and spit ink drawings of nearby buildings and landscapes, and tied together with shoelaces.
A Bavarian monastery librarian's love letter to printmaking and religious imagery, completed on February 14, 1798 and comprising almost 1000 separate prints and drawings, glued into an album with carefully-ruled margins following the manuscript tradition.
This lavish 158-page bound manuscript is devoted to the miracles of Mary. It was created in the late 17th century in Gonder, the newly established capital of Christian Ethiopia's Solomonic kings. The manuscript is part of a closely related group of manuscripts that were created during a period of great artistic innovation in Christian Ethiopia, when manuscript illuminators were exploring new approaches to their art including the introduction of narrative illustrations. It is likely that this book was commissioned by a wealthy individual as a high-status guide for family devotion.
This controversial manuscript with its allegorical line-drawn miniatures cast doubts on the legitimacy of certain members of the papacy.
Books of Hours were the most popular book of the Middle Ages and Renaissance; more of them were produced from c. 1250–1550 than any other type of book, devotional or otherwise. This example has been attributed to the workshop of the prolific Master of the Ghent Privileges, and characteristically ornaments a sequence of prayers and devotional reading to be recited at precisely set times of the day and night. Images such as this tender scene of the encounter between the Virgin and her cousin Saint Elizabeth, both miraculously with child, from this c. 1440/45 manuscript helped introduce the different segments of the Hours of the Virgin, the core section of all Books of Hours.
This very early Book of Hours manuscript for personal devotions boasts intricate Belgian illuminations of the Life of Christ, and prayers added in English.
During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, monks and preachers throughout Europe employed the Speculum humanae salvationis as an educational tool, including printed versions beginning in the late fifteenth-century. The Art Institute Speculum contains the standard Speculum text, which is comprised of a table of contents, an introduction, forty-five verse chapters, and forty-seven miniatures in varying degrees of completion.
Over 475 human figures populate this over-20-foot-long handscroll, documenting a relatively undiscovered subject in the fourteenth century: the common people. See more handscrolls in motion at the University of Chicago:
This important anonymous 13th-century Chinese handscroll adopts large-scale figures to enhance the dramatic parting of a scholar from his home province.
The large scale and legible text and music of choir books like graduals enabled a group to sing together from a single book.

While we encourage personal discovery and interpretation of works of art in our care, the commentaries associated with the works in My Collections have not been reviewed or approved for accuracy or content and are expressly not endorsed by the Art Institute of Chicago.

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