Art and Graphic

From Early Writings to Illuminated Manuscripts

Early Writings

I have always been intrigued by the images of pictographs left by prehistoric people. Some images carry simple symbols while ideographs represent ideas or concepts. It took a long time (Paleolithic to the Neolithic – 35,000 to 4,000 BCE) for humans to move from painting in caves to the beginning of the development of the alphabet. I question myself the reasons for taking this long. For a very long time, people were just too busy trying to survive and didn't settle down long enough to develop the ability to draw.

Anyways, thanks to the Sumerians who arrived in Mesopotamia at the end of the forth millennium BCE the changes from village culture to high civilization occurred. It was not as simple as it sounds, but once humans ceased their restless nomadic wanderings civilization started to change.

Figure 1 : Earliest examples of writings - Photo-Cuneiform which existed between the earliest pictographic forms and the abstract forms.

Figure 2: Shapes of the letters that would become the Greek, Hebrew, Latin and English alphabets.

The Phoenicians were traders who created an empire along the coasts they visited. The simple and ingenious alphabet of consonants from which the pictograms were created was indeed a merchant's instrument. The Greek and Roman societies used the foundations created by the Phoenicians and made the changes necessary to develop the modern alphabet as we know today.

Illuminated Manuscripts

The term illumination can have many meanings, but it was originally denoted the embellishment of the text of handwritten books with gold, giving a page the impression of being illuminated. During the medieval times there was a differentiation between books that were illustrated texts by relevant paintings and others that were supplied with decorative work that embellished initial capital letters and borders.

Figure 3: Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry”: April. Calendar illustration for April from the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, manuscript illuminated by the Limbourg brothers, 1416. Photos.com/Jupiterimages

The Book of Kells, which was created in the island of Iona in the 8th century, is considered a masterpiece due to its vibrant colors and beautiful design.

The following video is a summary of the historic importance of the book.

Cleia Muggler

California based graphic designer discovering new ways to balance functionality and aesthetics.

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