Highlights from the museum's outstanding collection of manuscripts, from an alchemical scroll to an alphabet book that belonged to a five-year old princess.

Spanning from the 10th to the 16th centuries, the 150 illuminated manuscripts on show not only represent the leading artistic centres of medieval and Renaissance Europe, but – thanks to research methods more commonly associated with analytical chemistry and art conservation – shed new light onto how pigments and gilding were created.

One of the most exciting discoveries was the presence of smalt in a 15th-century Venetian text. Previously this vivid cobalt, obtained by grinding blue glass, had only been documented in easel paintings completed half a century later.

Infrared analyses of sketches beneath final illuminations also offer insight into the tastes and dispositions of their owners, as well as changing notions of propriety. For example, an alphabet book commissioned for the daughter of Queen Anne of Brittany depicted a naked Adam and Eve, whose figures were clothed by a subsequent owner.

Fitzwilliam Museum

Trumpington Street, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2 1RB

01223 332900


Opening times

Tue – Sat, 10am – 5pm

Sun & Bank Holidays, 12noon – 5pm

Closed Mon, 24 – 26, 31 Dec and 1 Jan

Exhibitions nearby

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