Painted on Skin: An Introduction to Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts

Course summary

  • Wed 04 Oct 2017 to Wed 06 Dec 2017
  • 10:30am-12:30pm 10 meetings
  • Ewert House, Ewert Place, Oxford, OX2 7DD
  • From £199.00
  • 10 CATS points
  • Course code O17P475ARW
  • +44 (0)1865 280892
  • Course ended

Painted on Skin: An Introduction to Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts


Medieval illuminated manuscripts have been justly described as a National Gallery of medieval painting. Not only often objects of great beauty in themselves, these hand-written books are an unrivalled source for study of the art, life and culture of the Middle Ages. They are among the richest relics of the pre-modern world, relatively unscathed by the ravages of time and human destruction.

This extensively illustrated course offers an in-depth examination of manuscript design, construction and illumination, and considers the varieties of types of texts commonly illuminated, including Psatlers, Books of Hours, Bibles and Apocalypses. From the glories of early Insular manuscripts such as the Lindisfarne Gospels, to the refinement and sophistication of the Très Riches Heures of Jean de Berry, we examine how manuscripts were made and used, and by whom, and explore what they can tell us about medieval society.

The course, which is largely object based, will consist of a series of weekly seminars focusing on different types of illuminated books and include visits to Oxford libraries to study manuscripts in the flesh.

Programme details

Term Starts:   4th October    

Week 1: Introduction: Illuminated Manuscripts in the Middle Ages and the 21st Century 

Week 2: How to Make a Medieval Manuscript, or from Sheep to Shelf

Week 3: Sacred Codices, Early Gospel Books, their decoration and purpose

Week 4: Painting the Psalms: Visual Narratives in the Medieval Psalter     

Week 5: BODLEIAN LIBRARY VISIT - Wednesday 1 November, 2 - 4 pm 

Class to assemble at 1.45 in the Main Hall of the Weston Library, Broad St., Oxford, OX1 3BG

Map attached

A private visit to see illuminated manuscripts in the Bodleian’s collection, to be hosted by Dr Law Turner and Dr Martin Kauffmann, Head of Early and Rare Collections and Tolkien Curator of Medieval Manuscripts

Week 6: Picturing the Word: the Illuminated Bible in Medieval Culture

Week 7: Images of the End of Time: the Illustrated Apocalypse in Medieval England

Week 8: Books for Kings and Commoners: the Rise and Rise of the Book of Hours

Week 9: Student presentations

Week 10: MERTON COLLEGE LIBRARY VISIT - Wednesday 6 December, 2- 4 pm

Class to assemble at 1.45 at the Porters Lodge, Merton College, Merton St, Oxford, OX1 4JD

A private visit to view medieval manuscripts in the library of Merton College, to be hosted by Dr Law Turner and Dr Julia Walworth, Merton College Librarian. To be combined with a visit to the historic Old Library at Merton. 


Background Reading:

De Hamel, Christopher, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts

De Hamel, Christopher,  Scribes and Illuminators

Kauffmann, C.M., Biblical Imagery in Medieval England 700-1550

Wieck, Roger, Time Sanctified, the Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life

Eco, Umberto, The Name of the Rose

If you are planning to purchase books, remember that courses with too few students enrolled will be cancelled. The Department accepts no responsibility for books bought in anticipation of a course.

If you have enrolled on a course starting in the autumn, you can become a borrowing member of the Rewley House library from 1st September. If you are enrolled on a course starting in other terms, you can become a borrowing member once the previous term has ended.

Recommended reading

All weekly class students may become borrowing members of the Rewley House Continuing Education Library for the duration of their course. Prospective students whose courses have not yet started are welcome to use the Library for reference. More information can be found on the Library website.

There is a Guide for Weekly Class students which will give you further information. 

Availability of titles on the reading list (below) can be checked on SOLO, the library catalogue.

Recommended Reading List


Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to do so.


Course fee: £199.00
Take this couse for CATS points: £10.00


Dr Freddie Law-Turner

Freddie Law Turner has written and lectured widely on medieval material culture and decorative arts, with a special interested in illuminated manuscripts. She was recently J. Clawson Mills Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York  

Course aims

Understanding and appreciating the various types of illuminated books, the purpose and nature of their decoration and the context in which they were produced and used.

Course Objectives

1. Introduction to the circumstances and techniques of production of illuminated manuscripts from c. 600 to c.1500

2. Introduction to the most widely illuminated texts and their different programmes of decoration

3. Introduction to the techniques used to study illuminated manuscripts (codicology, palaeography, examination of page layout and style of painting, investigation of provenance)  

Teaching methods

Lectures, seminars, case studies and visits to libraries.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

1. Identify and discuss the types of books commonly illuminated and the purpose and nature of illumination in each.

2. Discuss the making and meaning of manuscripts using the correct  technical terms.

3. Demonstrate an understanding the various disciplines used to study such books and apply these to particular manuscripts.

Assessment methods

Presentation in Week 10 on an individual manuscript, precise topic to be agreed with tutor.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)