In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Norman (and Anglo-Norman) Manuscript Illumination

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Medieval Studies Norman (and Anglo-Norman) Manuscript Illumination
Laura Cleaver
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0230


The phrase “Norman manuscript illumination” is used to describe the styles of decoration found in manuscripts associated with Normandy and England in the 11th and 12th centuries, principally in the period 1066–1154. It has primarily been used in scholarship about manuscript production in England to explore developments during the reigns of the Anglo-Norman and Plantagenet kings from William the Conqueror to Henry II. The emergence of the dukes of Normandy as an important political power, which reached its apogee with the conquest of England in 1066, went hand-in-hand with the development of monasteries in Normandy as centers of culture and education. People and manuscripts crossed the channel before 1066, but the appointment of large numbers of Norman clergy to abbacies and bishoprics in England in the aftermath of the conquest helped to facilitate the movement of books as well as people. This movement was not only in one direction, and styles of decoration that took elements from Norman and Anglo-Saxon traditions developed in both England and northern France. In addition, these new styles of manuscript decoration have been examined as part of the development of a pan-European “Romanesque” style. Scholarship of the mid-20th century concentrated on the development and fusion of styles, and sought to organize material into localized “schools.” More recent scholarship has tackled questions of literacy, text-image relationships, manuscript production, and the role of books in the formation of intellectual and devotional cultures. The study of Norman and Anglo-Norman manuscripts is complicated by patterns of survival, in which some monasteries appear to be much better represented than others. For example, the loss of most of the collection of manuscripts from the hugely influential monastery at Le Bec in Normandy is unfortunate. In addition, scholarship has been influenced by modern European boundaries. Thus, Normandy is often treated as a region of France in French scholarship, and as the source of a cross-channel style in English scholarship. Although the decoration of manuscripts emerged as a field of specialist study in the 20th century, recent work has demonstrated that analysis of the decoration of books should not be divorced from the study of script, text, and the physical object of the book.

General Overviews

Very few studies have attempted to survey manuscript illumination in both Normandy and England in the 11th and 12th centuries. An important exception is Lawrence 1994, which examines the development of illumination in Normandy before and after 1066 and compares this with developments in England. In addition, the proceedings of the conference published in Bouet and Dosdat 1999 brings together a series of case studies from Normandy and further afield, to create an overview of some of the major themes in the scholarship on Norman and Anglo-Norman manuscripts. Surveys and catalogues of manuscripts have tended to focus on either Normandy or England. However, manuscripts from both regions have also been considered as part of broader studies of manuscript production and decoration. Clemens and Graham 2007 offers a wide-ranging introduction to manuscript studies, providing an extremely useful starting point for students. Morgan and Thomson 2008 offers a more detailed introduction to different types of manuscripts, focusing on examples from Britain, while Rudolph 2010 brings together accessible introductions to a range of relevant approaches to the study of medieval art.

  • Bouet, P., and M. Dosdat. Manuscrits et enluminures dans le monde normand (Xe-XVe siècles). Caen, France: Presses Universitaires de Caen, 1999.

    A volume of conference proceedings, focusing on specific manuscripts and groups of manuscripts, but bringing together material from across the Anglo-Norman lands, including Norman Sicily. A good starting point for the range of approaches taken to the material and further bibliography.

  • Clemens, Raymond, and Timothy Graham. Introduction to Manuscript Studies. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007.

    An accessible and richly illustrated introduction to a wide range of manuscript material and questions pertinent to the study of medieval books. An excellent resource for students new to the field.

  • Lawrence, Anne. “Anglo-Norman Book Production.” In England and Normandy in the Middle Ages. Edited by David Bates and Anne Curry, 79–93. London: Hambledon, 1994.

    This study traces the development of illumination in Normandy in the 11th and early 12th centuries. It argues that while Norman manuscripts were exported to England in large numbers, particularly after 1066, the importation of manuscripts from England only began to have significant impact on the style of decoration in the early 12th century.

  • Morgan, Nigel J., and Rodney Thomson. The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Vol. 2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521782180

    A collection of essays providing a wide-ranging introduction to the production and use of manuscripts in Britain c. 1100–1400, with useful additional bibliography.

  • Rudolph, Conrad, ed. A Companion to Medieval Art. Chichester, UK: John Wiley, 2010.

    A wide-ranging collection of essays providing a valuable introduction to a range of approaches to medieval works of art and architecture, and the historiography of the subject. Contains additional bibliography.

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