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A REVIEWER in Punch damned the Pre-Raphaelite paintings in the 1849 Royal Academy exhibition as having a “quaintness that do smack of… illuminated Missals”. In the 19th century the term “illumination” was accepted to describe rich ornament in colours and gold added to books; in medieval times the term was used for any ornament to make a text legible. Illumination might just consist of simple blue and red initials, penwork flourishes or rich borders, decorative initials and miniatures, or it might include pictures and text, as in books of hours.

This book, about the making of books, looks at the skills and the people involved in making them, discusses the V&A’s holdings of illuminated manuscripts and explains how these missals, breviaries and bibles of astonishing richness and beauty were made, often as collaborative productions.

There is a chapter on working methods and a delightful foray into mass-production of medieval books. The V&A’s Dr Watson also talks elementarily about how early books were marketed and sold and ends with a look at illumination’s 19th century revival by designers such as William Morris and Owen Jones.

There is exquisite photography of some of the most beautiful objects ever produced through a collection made specifically as an educational resource in the 19th century. The Internet even has a mention in this “manuscript” context… some libraries use their websites to give a complete account of their holdings (ie the Royal Library in the Hague: www.kb.nl).