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

Bruges (Belgium) — 1466-1476

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

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Coronation Gospels of the Holy Roman Empire

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

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

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Durazzo Book of Hours

Parma (Italy) — Beginning of the 16th century

All in gold and purple: one of the last and most beautiful purple manuscripts of the Late Middle Ages

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Royal Prayer Book for Otto III

Germany — 983-991

All in purple and gold: the only preserved royal Ottonian prayer book

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Godescalc Evangelistary

Germany — 781-783

Commissioned by Charlemagne and completed in his Court School at Aachen by the scribe Godescalc: a Carolingian-Insular masterpiece in gold and purple

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Codex Purpureus Rossanensis

Asia Minor — 6th century

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

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Black Hours

Bruges (Belgium) — ca. 1475

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

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Vienna Genesis

Syria — First half of the 6th century

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

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Gold and silver musical notation for Emperor Maximilian's wife: one of only seven surviving medieval manuscripts made entirely of purple parchment

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Purple Passion of Fra Angelico

Florence (Italy) — Mid-15th century

Created for the Medicis: masterful miniatures on purple parchment

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