Cambridge Illuminations

26 July to 11 December 2005
At Cambridge University Library and the Fitzwilliam Museum




Manuscripts and Documents for Cambridge University

At the University Library

Tree of consanguinity (relationship by blood); from a gloss on Book IV of the decretals of Pope Gregory IX. North Eastern France, late thirteenth century. CUL MS Add 4019, f. 1v.

The emergence of the universities in the late twelfth century created a growing demand for academic books which transformed Bologna, Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge into important centres of manuscript production. Few scholars and students needed lavishly decorated books for their studies and even fewer could afford them. Those who could, would have commissioned illustrated copies of legal and theological texts, of Aristotle and the most popular medieval encyclopaedias. The Reformation rendered most of these texts obsolete. The University books of medieval Cambridge have left only faint traces.

Unlike textbooks, the foundation charters and official documents of the University and its Colleges survive and provide vital evidence for the practice of illumination in Cambridge. They also preserve some of the earliest representations of academics whose status, obligations, and privileges were endorsed by successive monarchs. The rich and hieratic illustration of these documents reflects the authority of University institutions and the pride of the individuals associated with them.