For fun I look at medieval manuscripts. However, as I do not have in-person access to these manuscripts, I look at the digitized versions provided by libraries, museums, universities, and other cultural institutions. At the end of this blog post, I’ve provided a list of links to digitized collections.
Medieval illuminations and marginalia are beautiful, fascinating, and sometimes just down right funny. They give modern day readers the ability to travel back in time and interact with the scribes, illuminators, and past readers who are people just like them. (Not to mention the animals that interacted with the manuscripts as well!) People who made notes indicating important parts of the text, drew silly looking monsters doing sillier things, rubbed out drawings they considered lewd, wrote their names on the pages, and so much more.
Despite the fact medieval manuscripts are hundreds of years old, a significant number of them are not in the public domain. Many medieval manuscripts are copyrighted or under some sort of restriction that prevents commercial and non-commercial use. However, there are some institutions that allow their manuscripts to be used freely or with attribution.
That is why all the medieval illuminations I feature on my Instagram have the manuscript number, institution name, and any other information the owner requires in my captions. I include this information on open access images as well so people can find the sources if they want to do further research or simply look at them on their own.
Because of the many restrictions (which are often confusing to read), there are a lot of manuscripts I’m unable to share. However, people can still access them for free if they only intend to look at them.
Please be aware individual institutions have different policies regarding how their images can be used. Always check the source’s rules about distribution before using them!
This list will be added to as I find more digitized medieval manuscript collections.
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris France
The BnF’s website is kind of difficult to navigate. That being said, I’m sure it would be easier if I could read French.
- France-Angleterre, Manuscrits Médiévaux
Bodleian Libraries, Oxford UK
- Digital Bodleian—contains manuscripts from multiple eras
British Library, London UK
The British Library has several databases for its collection. Here are two places I particularly like:
- Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts
- Digitized Manuscripts—contains materials from other eras, not just the Middle Ages
J. Paul Getty Museum, California USA
- Getty Search Gateway—Features images from multiple eras
Morgan Library and Museum, New York City, USA
- Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore USA
- The Walters Ex Libris