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Illuminated Manuscripts

The Cloisters

Joanne Feeny

The Cloisters- Opened in 1938, this branch of the Metropolitan Museum of art is dedicated to the display of artifacts from the Middle Ages. Overlooking the Hudson River in Fort Tryon, New York, The Cloisters offers a glimpse of the religious and secular sculptures dating from the Twelfth through Fifteenth Centuries. Contained in The Treasury section of this museum are samples of magnificently decorated Illuminated Manuscripts on the era.

What Are Illuminated Manuscripts?

The term "illuminated" comes from the Latin word "illuminare" where it means "adorn". Most of the books are copies of the Bible, the Gospels of, and most common and widely used, Book of Hours.

How are the books made?

The manuscripts are hand decorated, often by monks. The most common medium is parchment or vellum, the skin of young, sometimes stillborn sheep or calves. For the text and decorations ink, tempera, gold and silver leaf are most often employed.

Illuminated Manuscripts on Display at The Cloisters

Although the Cloister's has an extensive collection, only a limited number of manuscriptsa re on display. They can be seen in the Treasury.


The Cloisters Apocalypse

  • The Cloisters Collection, 1968. 68.174
  • Medium- Tempera, gold and silver leaf on vellum
  • Both visually and through the written word we learn of St. John's visions and apocalyptic predictions. The subject matter lends itself to many striking images.
  • The pages of the manuscript are turned to coincide with religious holidays, displaying relevant texts
  • Produced in France, most likely in or near Coutances
  • Similar to other apocalyptic manuscripts, based on a common model

Two Leaves from the Hours of Charles of France

  • The Cloisters Collection, 1958 (58.71 a,b)
  • Paris, France- 1465
  • Made by Jean Foquet
  • Made for Charles, Duke of Normandy
  • The Cloisters' pages were produced earlier than other portions of the book. This is evident because the coat of arms displayed is the one employed while Charles was still the Duke of Berry, prior to being Duke of Normandy
  • Medium- tempera, ink and gold leaf on vellum
  • Elaborate depiction of the annunciation
  • Set in landscape
  • Contains inscriptions referring to Charles

Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg, Duchess of Normandy

  • Cloisters Collection, 1969. (69.86)
  • Paris, France
  • Prior to 1349
  • Probably by Jean Le Noir, his daughter and his workshop
  • Book of Hours made for Bonne of Luxembourg, wife of Jean- Duke of Normandy, and later King of France
  • Her coat of arms prevail throughout the text
  • Similarity to Triani Fresco, in Campo Santo, Pisa, suggests Italian Influence
  • Illustrates scene from Psalm 97

Book of Hours

  • Anonymous Loan 1990 (1990.38)
  • C. 1270
  • For private devotion by laity
  • Imitates monastic practice of reading established prayers and scriptures for the 8 Canonical hours of the day
  • Hours of Virgin Mary is the principle text
  • Also includes prayers to saints, psalms and a calendar
  • Original owner is identified in a prayer as Maria
  • The frequent depiction of women in the text supports the theory of commissioner as being female

Related Links


  • Bunson, Matthew, Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. New York: Facts on File, 1995.
  • The information on the specific illuminated manuscripts displayed at The Cloisters was drawn heavily from the commentaries provided.

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