Black and Purple Manuscripts

Black and purple manuscripts are among the rarest and most precious examples of medieval illumination that have survived to this day.

In the case of black manuscripts, the parchments were dipped in an iron sulfate solution. The pages blackened in this way can only be written on with gold and silver ink and emphasize the colors of the miniatures in a particularly beautiful manner. However, the solution was often mixed up incorrectly or too strongly and as a result, only seven black manuscripts – often in very poor condition – have survived.

For purple manuscripts, the parchment sheets were colored with purple solutions (often mixed with vegetable dyes). However, purple was and is far more valuable and expensive than even gold or lapis lazuli: the purple glands of around 10,000 purple snails are required for 1 gram of crystalline purple. It is thus clear that manuscripts colored with purple were practically only intended for emperors...

Black Prayer Book of Galeazzo Maria Sforza

Black parchment and bright colors commissioned by Charles the Bold: one of only a handful of black manuscripts preserved

Bruges (Belgium) — 1466–1476

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Coronation Gospels of the Holy Roman Empire

Part of the Imperial Insignia, written in gold ink on purple parchment: each German emperor swore his oath with his hand on this book

Court School of Charlemagne, Aachen (Germany) — Shortly before 800

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Durazzo Book of Hours

A masterpiece entirely in gold and purple: one of the last and one of the most beautiful purple manuscripts of the late Middle Ages

Parma (Italy) — Beginning of the 16th century

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Royal Prayer Book for Otto III

Gold and purple for the king: the only preserved royal Ottonian prayer book

Germany — 983–991

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Godescalc Evangelistary

Commissioned by Charlemagne, completed by the scribe Godescalc in his Aachen court school: a Carolingian-Insular masterpiece in gold and purple

Germany — 781–783

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Codex Purpureus Rossanensis

Containing the earliest portrait of an Evangelist in book illumination: one of the oldest surviving and most fascinating Gospel books in history on purple parchment

Asia Minor — 6th century

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Black Hours

Radiant miniatures, glowing borders and gold initials on black colored parchment: one of only seven black manuscripts that have survived to this day

Bruges (Belgium) — ca. 1475

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Vienna Genesis

One of the oldest surviving biblical manuscripts: Greek text in silver ink and charming miniatures on purple-colored parchment

Syria — First half of the 6th century

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Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria

Gold and silver musical notation for Emperor Maximilian's wife: one of only seven surviving medieval manuscripts from the Middle Ages made entirely of black parchment

Flanders — ca. 1470

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Purple Passion of Fra Angelico

Created for the Medici, preserved today in two museums on two continents: masterly miniatures of the Dominican monk Fra Angelico on purple parchment

Florence (Italy) — Mid 15th century

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