I’ve always been one for pictures and imagery – a visual learner, you see – and over the years, as a medievalist, I’ve developed a bit of a thing for illuminated initials. There’s just something about them, especially Anglo-Saxon ones. I think it’s all that intricate interlacing; it reminds me of my own doodling when I’m on the phone (long, long calls from Aunty so-and-so).
Now, just to be precise, here: 'illuminated initial' (or 'decorated initial') is a broad term, distinct from 'historiated initial' which, as the descriptor suggests, is an initial with a visual story within it. Perhaps you noticed the David and Goliath one I showed the other week. I should probably say, too, that ‘illuminated’ strictly speaking describes the deployment of gold in manuscript decoration. But I’m not that fastidious in my designations, so today we’ll go with: initials that have been ornamented in some way with colour.
As for my penchant for Bs, well, no doubt someone could offer me a Freudian interpretation (please don’t), but really it’s probably quite straightforward. You see, I’ve seen more illuminated Bs than anything else. And that’s because B is invariably for Beatus. Blessed. Now everyone wants a bit of that, don’t they?
Below are some of my favourites, all from the British Library. Enjoy!
Please note: All images in this post are Public Domain and identified by the British library as free of any known copyright restrictions. Just click onto the image to be taken to the British Library website.
Well, if you've enjoyed my bit of visual light relief, let me know. I can always do something similar another time.
Ah well ... back to the exegesis!