Exhibition of Illuminated Manuscripts Comes to the Polk Museum of Art

LAKELAND, FL – In an age of electronic books and computer-generated illustrations, an exhibition opening March 23 will take Polk Museum of Art visitors back in time to when books largely were handwritten and illustrated by members of religious orders.


The Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College presents, “Painted Pages: Illuminated Manuscripts from the 13th to 18th Centuries,” which runs through May 25.


The exhibition explores the golden age of handmade books, some of which employed elaborate gold leaf decoration and intricate ornament. It includes examples from medieval European Bibles, prayer books, psalters, books of hours, choir books, missals, breviaries and lectionaries. Examples of the materials used by artists to create these extraordinary pages — gold leaf, parchment, vellum, and minerals ground to create pigments —are also featured in the exhibit.


“Painted Pages is an opportunity to introduce the community to amazing historical artifacts that they may not have seen before,” said Dr. Alex Rich, the museum’s curator and director of galleries and exhibitions.

Most of the works date from the 13th through the 18th centuries and are ink on parchment, which is prepared animal skin. French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Flemish, English, Armenian and German examples are included in addition to non-Western pages such as 17th- and 18th-century leaves from the Shahnameh, which is the Persian illustrated Book of Kings, as well as examples of Hebrew texts.


Nearly all of the manuscript pages entered the collection of the Reading Public Museum through Otto Ege, a well-known bookseller and manuscript specialist, who was born in Reading in 1888. He was a longtime resident of Cleveland, Ohio, where he served as professor of art history and dean of the Cleveland Institute of Art.


Highlights include a lavish Bifolio from a Book of Hours with illuminations by Joachinus de Gigantibus de Rotenberg (German, active 1440s – 1490s), a Perugian Leaf from a Dominican Missal from the late 14th century, a large Bifolio of a Spanish Choir Book from the 15th century, a Hebrew scroll of the Book of Esther from the 18th century, and a leather-bound Italian Gradual containing the chants for the mass penned in the 1720s.



The meaning of “illuminated manuscripts” is somewhat open to interpretation, Rich said. “Illuminated” often describes the glow of the illustrations’ radiant colors, as well as the real gold and silver used in them. The illustrations included decorative letters, borders and figurative scenes.


“The purpose of the manuscripts often was to illuminate the reader, to give them some kind of revelation about the subject of the specific manuscript,” he said.