Manuscripts and Special Collections

Two examples of decorative schemes

John Gower, Confessio Amantis (WLC/LM/8)


John Gower, Confessio Amantis, Book VII, ‘The Education of a King’, extract concerning astronomy, WLC/LM/8 f. 155r

This page from John Gower’s Confessio Amantis is a handsome example of English book production in the early fifteenth century, with its large leaves, double columns, generous margins, running titles, colour and use of the distinctive English script anglicana formata. It is also clearly unfinished.

Space left for a miniature, from John Gower, ‘Confessio Amantis’, WLC/LM/8, f. 1r

It is clear from this book that the preparation of the writing space and copying of the text took place before decoration.

If you look carefully at spaces left for initials you can see a small and faint letter which was written by the scribe as a

guide for the illuminator.


These are consequently known as guide-letters. This first example shows the guide-letter 't', at the start of the line '[T]he science of astronomie'. The second, below, shows a number of instances of spaces left for decorated capitals.


Guide-letter 't', WLC/LM/8, f. 155r

Blank spaces left in key sentences for ornate capitals, WLC/LM/8, f. 53v

The only form of decoration actually included in the manuscript is informal: the manuscript contains a number of attractive pen drawings of animals, foliage and fish, designed to cover blemishes in the vellum.



Illustrations to cover flaws in the parchment, from John Gower, ‘Confessio Amantis’, WLC/LM/8, f. 67r and 70v


French Romances and Fabliaux (WLC/LM/6)

The volume of French Romances and Fabliaux is the most important illustrated work in the Wollaton Library Collection. The stories of knightly deeds and romance are illustrated by 83 miniatures. Current research confirms an early thirteenth century date for the volume, supporting its claim to be the earliest fully illustrated surviving collection of French romances. This full page shows the planning and execution of the decoration.

Page from the tale ‘Ille et Galeron’ by Gautier d’Arras, WLC/LM/6, f. 164r

Space was allocated for the miniatures before the text was written, and the verse lines broken to fit the format. The missing first letter (here, ‘A’ from ‘Amis’) indicates that a decorated initial was originally intended.

Miniature showing Ille addressing the emperor of Rome, WLC/LM/6, f. 164r

Elsewhere on the page, marginal flourishes in red and blue draw the eye to smaller decorated letters. The elaborate extension of letters into the bottom margin suggests that on this occasion the scribe was also responsible for some of the decorative flourishes.  

Detail showing extensions of letters into the bottom margin, WLC/LM/6, f. 164r

Detail showing marginal flourishes, WLC/LM/6, f. 164r


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Manuscripts and Special Collections

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