Historiated Capitals

Inhabited Capitals and Borders

Later illuminated manuscripts were made largely by lay people. Earlier examples were made mostly by monks. As you get closer to modern times, the illumination becomes more and more elaborate, taking precedence over the text. These manuscripts were commissioned by the rich and powerful. Increasingly, they became an expression of the wealth and power of the individual. There is also the consideration that as they were made by artisans, who had families to keep, the more elaborate the illumination, the more work there was and the more you got paid!

The major capital in the example below is an historiated initial. The border around the text block is an inhabited border. These help to tell the story or convey the meaning of the text. Some marginal decorations are very strange indeed. The Macclesfield Psalter is a prime example. As with any other type of major decorated initial, the main elements are guided by the underlying geometry. The figure of the King below has his heart inside a vesica, which is symbolic of Christ. In medieval stained glass windows, the figures and other features frequently follow the lines of a geometry based on nested squares. Have a good look next time you're in a medieval cathedral.