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Intricate hand embossing, gold inlays, and exquisite colourful illuminations of plants and animals, feature in irreplaceable Middle Eastern texts dating from the 1500s. These treasured manuscripts, from the Special Collections of the Baillieu Library (the University of Melbourne) detail plans and pilgrimages, Sufi poems and ancient prayers, astrological insights, and weaponry.
The Middle Eastern Manuscripts collection features a diverse range of examples of the art of the illuminator. Intricate designs and patterns are hand-painted on parchment, paper and leather using gold and silver leaf as well as coloured pigments. The different styles and techniques used in the works on display in Illuminations indicate the artists’ talent and the extensive range that is indicative of the illuminated Middle Eastern manuscript tradition. Illuminations, which were added after the main text had been transcribed, could be purely decorative, but they were also to signal important passages as well as enhancing or clarifying a text’s meaning.
The term ‘illuminated’ comes from the Latin illuminare (to brighten, to light up) and refers to the use of bright colours and gold to embellish initial letters or to portray entrie scenes.