Most people’s awareness of manuscript illumination is based on a few outstanding examples known mainly through reproductions, such as the Book of Kells and the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Works of this kind, which have often survived better than large-scale paintings on panel, canvas or fresco, are best preserved in closed books and for this reason are seldom displayed. Yet they belong to the longest continuous tradition of any type of European painting, extending from the end of the fourth century, the era in which the Vatican Virgil was produced, to the middle of the 16th, about a hundred years after the invention of printing. Compared with previous periods, production of this type of work in the second half of the 16th century was very restricted. Some examples even survive from later periods, such as the illustrated books of William Blake, but they are rare and exceptional.
Illuminations are by far the most common type of painting to survive at all from the Middle Ages in many parts of Europe and elsewhere, and that is one reason why they have been much studied by art historians. For the most part, they have necessarily remained the