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Illuminating the Book - HOA00045H

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  • Department: History of Art
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Hanna Vorholt
  • Credit value: 40 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2022-23 to Summer Term 2022-23

Module aims

This module investigates the complex roles that images and other visual devices have in the history of the book. The focus will be on some of the most lavish books ever produced: illuminated Bible manuscripts. These manuscripts are diverse in their size, scope, audiences, and functions. They range in scale from giant volumes to pocket-size and rarely comprise only the text of the Bible (be it the whole Old and New Testaments or just one individual book, such as the Apocalypse): the biblical text is often complemented by further material such as prologues, calendars, diagrams, glosses and tables. Images can feature in these manuscripts in numerous ways: in some cases they come to replace the text as the core component of the manuscripts; in others they appear as prefatory miniature cycles, between texts, within individual letters or in the margins. Additionally, the text itself is configured visually through the way in which the letters are shaped and laid out on the pages.

In this module we will investigate these visual dimensions of the manuscripts, drawing on prominent biblical manuscripts made between c. 1100 and 1500 as case-studies. They will include, among others, a giant Bible of Bury St Edmunds Abbey, diagrammatical chronicles developed for students of theology in the University of Paris, and the moralized Bibles made for the kings and queens of France. Through the lens of such case-studies and by using a range of theoretical approaches, we will address broader issues of manuscript production, patronage and use, and investigate concepts of time and visual argumentation. In this way, the module aims to provide tools for a critical and nuanced assessment of visual phenomena which in many ways still define the books and media we are using today.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should have acquired:

  • A good knowledge of key examples of illuminated manuscripts of the period.
  • A nuanced approach to the relationship between image, text, and layout in medieval manuscripts.
  • Acquaintance with a range of different approaches to the study of illuminated manuscripts and with the terminology that is used for their analysis.


Task Length % of module mark
Assessed Essays
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Assessed Essays
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on assessed work within the timeframes set out by the University - please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information.

The purpose of feedback is to help you to improve your future work. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further, you are warmly encouraged to meet your Supervisor during their Office Hours.

Indicative reading

  • Jeffrey F. Hamburger, Script as Image (Leuven, 2014)
  • Paul Binski and Stella Panyotova (eds), The Cambridge Illuminations. Ten Centuries of Book Production in the Medieval West (London and Turnhout: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2005), esp. pp. 74-117
  • C. M. Kauffmann, Biblical Imagery in Medieval England 700-1550 (London: Harvey Miller, 2003)
  • Scot McKendrick and Kathleen Doyle, Bible Manuscripts: 1400 years of scribes and scripture (London: The British Library, 2007)
  • Susan Boynton and Diane J. Reilly (eds), The Practice of the Bible in the Middle Ages: Production, Reception, and Performance in Western Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011)
  • John Lowden, 'Illustration in biblical manuscripts', in: The New Cambridge History of the Bible, ed. E Ann Matter and Richard Marsden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 446-82
  • Lucy Freeman Sandler, 'The word in the text and the image in the margin', in: Studies in Manuscript Illumination, 1200-1400 (London, 2008), pp. 45-75
  • Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca and London, 2007)
  • Christopher de Hamel, The Book. A History of the Bible (New York: Phaidon, 2001)
  • Frans van Liere, An Introduction to the Medieval Bible (Cambridge, 2014)

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.