The Gilded Page: The Secret Lives of Medieval Manuscripts

Basic Oct. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9781541675087. $30. HIST
This first book by historian Wellesley (medieval language and literature, British Lib.) is a detailed inquiry into the creation, preservation, and legacy of medieval illuminated manuscripts from present-day Great Britain and Ireland. Wellesley’s subject matter holds an irresistible hook, for not just historians but anyone who loves reading. She examines several famous medieval manuscripts and discusses their significance in historical context. These manuscripts, all produced by hand, address the lives of a range of medieval persons, from kings to cowherds to anchorites. The research here goes deep, covering not only the historical context for these works but the whole process of medieval bookmaking, from the production of parchment to the planning process for a scribe copying, for instance, the Bible. Best of all, Wellesley has seen these documents firsthand, and many observations are her own. The books studied here span many years and may seem only loosely related, but those are common conditions of histories of medieval life. Wellesley’s book includes color reproductions of illuminated pages and a glossary to help readers keep track of terms relating to special collections.
VERDICT A rare book about primary sources themselves, written in language that will appeals to medieval experts and new students alike.
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