Manuscript illumination: fishing, hunting and craft. Illustration from the Reiner Musterbuch, after 1200 (Austrian National Library, Vienna).
Book Illumination. Book and manuscript illumination dates back to Antiquity, when scrolls and books were first illuminated. In the Middle Ages the manuscripts were often decorated with paintings and drawings (margin borders, initials, ornaments); different techniques were applied (watercolour, opaque colour, distemper, gilded ground, pen-and-ink drawings). In the early Middle Ages only monks did manuscript illumination and it was not undertaken by professional painters until later. Two of the oldest works of manuscript illumination in Austria (both are kept by the Austrian National Library in Vienna) are the "Wiener Dioskurides" (illuminated around 512 in Constantinople) and the "Vienna Genesis" (illuminated around the mid-6th century in Antioch or in Constantinople).
The first Austrian illuminations were created in Salzburg and at Mondsee, where Irish and Anglo-Saxon monks set up an early Carolingian painting and writing school. The most important works of this school are the "Cutbercht gospel book" (around 800, Austrian National Library) and the "Codex Millenarius Maior" (illuminated at the end of the 8th century at Mondsee, now at Kremsmünster). The 11th century marked the beginning of a new period of manuscript illumination. Austrian traditions met with western and Byzantine styles. A masterpiece of this period is the "Book of Pericopes of the Custodian Pertholt" (illuminated in Salzburg in the 2nd half of the 11th century, now in New York). The Salzburg book illuminations belong to the greatest works of Central European Romanesque painting of the 1st half of the 12th century. Along with the "Giant Bible of Admont" (around 1140, Austrian National Library), the "Walther Bible" (2nd quarter of the 12th century, in the monastery of Michaelbeuern near Salzburg, miniatures have largely disappeared) and a book of pericopes from the Nonnberg nunnery in Salzburg (before 1150, now in Munich), the "Antiphonary of St. Peter's" illuminated with around 400 initials and 50 pen-and-ink drawings (around 1160, Austrian National Library) is the most beautiful extant work of this period. It excels not only in expression but also in its realistic depiction of nature. The monk Liuthold worked in the monastery of Mondsee (documented from 1145 to 1170) where he illuminated an evangelistary (2nd quarter of the 12th century, Austrian National Library), a collection of canon laws (around 1140, now in Munich) and the "Ranshofen Evangelistary" (in 1178, now in Oxford). The monasteries of Admont, Seckau, St. Lambrecht, Rein, Heiligenkreuz, Klosterneuburg, Zwettl, Kremsmünster, St. Florian and Lambach also had writing and painting workshops. In monasteries of the province of Carinthia the "Millstatt Genesis" and Physiologus manuscripts (on natural studies) were illuminated (around 1160).
With the advent of the Gothic period the countries along the River Danube and Vienna became the most important centres of manuscript illumination. Two periods can be distinguished: the early Gothic period (until the introduction of paper at the end of the 14th century) with the monasteries of St. Florian, Upper Austria, and Klosterneuburg, Lower Austria, as centres of manuscript illumination and the high and late Gothic period (until the introduction of wood-engraving at the end of the 15th century) with the court workshop in Vienna as the centre. In between, the Bohemian-Luxembourg school (Prague), which is famous for its colourful splendour, influenced Austrian illuminators. The "Wenceslas Bible" (around 1390, Austrian National Library), which comprises six volumes and is decorated with 651 miniatures, is of Bohemian origin. Around 1380 Albrecht III set up the Vienna Court Miniature School, whose professional painters were not only influenced by Bohemian illuminators but also by Dutch, French and Italian artists. Its most important work is the "Rationale of Duranti" (1385-1406, Austrian National Library).
With the advent of letterpress printing and wood-engraving the art of book illumination was practically reduced to lavish and expensive hand-written works. One of the last major clients was Maximilian I, who ordered the illumination of several books for his library by renowned artists, e.g. the "Tiroler Fischereibuch" (1504) and the "Ambraser Heldenbuch".
The mid-19th century saw a short revival of manuscript illumination (prayer-book of Empress Elisabeth, papal missal), which later survived only in official documents, diplomas, etc.
At the beginning of the 20th century the Wiener Werkstätte and the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts created outstanding illustrations of books, thereby founding the tradition of artists' books, which is still alive to the present day.
Manuscript illumination: prayerbook of Albrecht V (monastery of Melk, Lower Austria).
Literature: Beschreibendes Verzeichnis der illuminierten Handschriften in Österreich, 5 vols., from 1905; E. Frisch, Mittelalterliche Buchmalerei - Kleinodien aus Salzburg, 1949; O. Mazal, Buchkunst der Romanik, 1978; A. Haidinger, Studien zur Buchmalerei in Klosterneuburg und Wien vom späten 14. Jahrhundert bis um 1450, doctoral thesis, Vienna 1980; A. Fingernagel, Die Heiligenkreuzer Buchmalerei von den Anfängen bis in die Zeit um 1200, doctoral thesis, Vienna 1985; O. Pächt, Buchmalerei des Mittelalter, 1985.