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Every piece Soane creates, whether furniture, lighting or fabrics, holds a story, from its historic design influences to meticulous manufacturing by our skilled British craftsmen. At Soane we thrive on exchanging these stories – they capture our imaginations and enrich our daily lives. The Journal offers an opportunity to take these conversations further and delve into other subjects that excite and inspire us. We warmly invite you to share in our musings

Lulu Lytle

Founder & Creative Director

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Illuminated Manuscripts

  • 17 Feb 2021
Boethius and Fortune in "Le Livre de Boece de Consolacion" (France 15th Century): London, British Library. Add MS 10341, f.31v
Pyrrus's army with elephants in "Histoire universelle" (Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 13th Century): London, British Library, Add MS 15268, f. 226
Detail of a partial foliate border inhabited by a bird, at the beginning of Kings in "Former and Latter Prophets (Neviim)" (Italy 14th Century): London, British Library, Add MS 11657, f.110v

Of all the things we think of as luxuries, books generally aren’t one of them. We are so lucky to live in a time where books are affordable and widely available, when for so many centuries they and the knowledge they represent were a precious commodity, carefully hand-copied by generations of scribes and monks, and decorated with a painstaking attention that befitted their status. When Soane co-founder Lulu Lytle brought in fine artist Sophie Coryndon to collaborate on a collection of fabrics and wallpapers, their shared appreciation of illuminated manuscripts was one of the elements that came to underpin the collection’s aesthetic.

Illuminated manuscripts – some with rich detailing in gold or silver leaf, some with huge illustrations that sprawl over pages, others with jewel-like initials or minuscule marginalia- appeared in the early days of the Middle Ages, and only grew in complexity and beauty over the following centuries until the desire for them came to an end with the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century. The most elaborate illuminations were largely reserved for religious books – altar bibles, or the private prayer books of the very rich, known as books of hours. Depicting scenes from the texts they described, along with wildly fanciful patterns of flowers and leaves, perhaps with wildlife (real or imagined) peering in, the illustrations are only limited by what their creator could envision.

Particularly inspirational for the Sophie Coryndon for Soane Britain collection are the deep, intense colours of these illuminations: ultramarine blue made from Afghan lapis lazuli, the red pigment minium, created by baking white lead, which gives miniatures their name; and jewel-like greens derived from malachite and verdigris. The colours and intricate patterns of illustrated manuscripts cross-pollinated with other artworks of their time, including, for example, the fourteenth-century Wilton Diptych showing Richard II being presented to Christ and the Virgin Mary. The diptych’s artist, who may also have worked on manuscripts, created a fine background of trelliswork picked out in gold for the scene, and this was the inspiration for Soane’s new ‘Wilton Vine’ wallpaper.

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