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  • Heavenly Path News Team

"The Lost Art of Manuscript Illumination" - Kseniia Bludova

In the 21st century, it doesn't seem that all is lost. Illumination Artist Ksenia Bludova writes about it.

In today's world ancient illustrated books are of genuine interest among audience of very different interests. This is an extraordinary art. Art that is intended for individual contemplation and reading. Small pages (and hence short texts, small ornaments and pictures) invite to detailed, careful and lengthy viewing.

"...Now full illustrated manuscript is a unique phenomenon. Not so long ago I worked on creating Six Psalms and from personal experience was able to see how long, complex and requiring careful initial preparations the process is."

"...For the first time, I plunged into this wonderful world while studying at the icon-painting school. It struck me with its depth, and at the same time subtlety, grace and virtuosity. And since my personal artistic preferences have always been connected with Byzantine and Slavic Christian art, so when studying ancient church books, I looked at these cultural properties in the first place. The plasticity of the Greek minuscule, the stability of the ancient Russian uncial, refined coloring of Constantinople manuscripts and ornate graphics of ornamental headbands from the Balkans are also inspiring.

Now full illustrated manuscript is a unique phenomenon. Not so long ago I worked on creating Six Psalms and from personal experience was able to see how long, complex and requiring careful initial preparations the process is. However, in the meantime, such work brings a real pleasure and joy. Solving current creative tasks (choosing the size of the manuscript, font, color, style, and ornamental accompaniment) involves all knowledge and opportunities. That's exactly why, there are thoughts to create a handwritten illustrated Gospel, but this is an expensive process that requires suspension from all other activities. So for now, it's just a dream.

In my work, I also referred to the "purple" manuscripts. They are painted in gold and silver on sheets dyed purple. This combination is simply amazing! It inspired me to create a triptych, where the main idea is related to Jesus's Coming, Ascension and Second Coming.

In this form of art anthropomorphic images (traditional for Christian orthodox art) can be easily and naturally combined with different texts. Whether it is the Gospel, the Epistles, the books of the Old Covenant, or even prayers and the Holy Fathers’ pieces of writing. They can be decorated with ornamental headbands and bloomers. All these factors together provide a vast field for creativity.

Each period of Christian history has its own features, typical for a particular era. And, every time, the art immediately and precisely meets the needs of Christians.

Сultural properties of any country, period, and style are available for modern man to study and view. It gives unprecedented opportunities but also brings hidden temptations. Having constant access to all the museums of the world, the icon-painter regularly looks at what was created earlier, admiring the skill level of the ancient icon-painter and loses the ability to create on its own making a cult of copying.

Now Christian art is undergoing significant transformations. Many artists and connoisseurs feel this period of change. They are looking for new means of expression, forms, and artistic language of Christian thought. This happens in all areas of fine church art.

I find it very important to involve work with texts into my art. It offers new sides and opportunities for a deeper knowledge of God and Christianity in general."

The History of the Art of Manuscript Illumination

Illuminated manuscripts were hand-made books, usually on Christian scripture or practice, produced in Western Europe between c. 500-c. 1600. They are so called because of the use of gold and silver which illuminates the text and accompanying illustrations. Their production gradually died out after the invention of the printing press.

Although Muslim artisans also used this technique to ornament their books, the term “illuminated manuscripts” is most commonly used to refer to those works produced in Europe on Christian themes. However, the poetry and myth of pre-Christian authors, such as Virgil, was sometimes also illuminated.

Hand-made illuminated manuscripts were initially produced by monks in abbeys but, as they became more popular, production became commercialized and was taken over by secular book-makers. Illuminated manuscripts were quite costly to produce and only those of significant means could afford them.

The most popular type was the Book of Hours which was a Christian devotional of prayers to be said at certain times throughout the day. More Books of Hours have survived than any other work of the period simply because more of them were produced. The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in c. 1440 signaled the beginning of the end of hand-made books generally and illuminated manuscripts specifically.

About the Artist

Ksenia Bludova is a proffessional Illustrator and works for ICON Painter. She is also a Сhoir conductor in an orthodox church. Studied Arts & Humanities: Music Education, Psychology & Health at Melitopol State Pedagogical University. She lives in Melitopol in Ukraine.


History Source:

Potamitis Publishing – Orthodox Children's Books is the first-ever Orthodox publishing ministry that publishes books exclusively for Orthodox children. 
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