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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

G = Grisaille

'Grisaille' is the term for scenes in illuminated manuscripts where the scenes are executed in shades of gray ('gris' in French) or brown.  The backgrounds are often brightly colored or gilded.  The effect is almost the same as looking at a statue or a carved frieze.

While this technique has been found in some English manuscripts, most of this style of painting is found in manuscripts from the continent.

How did It come about?  Who thought of it?  It seems to me, looking at the calm, almost monumental, scenes executed in this fashion, that the artist-scribes had to be thinking of the shimmer of light over  polished marble.  The touches of color, like the golden ray descending in the painting to the left, and the heavenly blue sky, lend a richness to the images.

The jewel-like decorations bordering the illustration of John the Baptist, right, would be lovely sandwiched between clear sheets of rock crystal, framed in gold, and hung from a chain.  (Notice that he is wearing animal skins...)


  1. It's amazing how much the touch of gold around the edges changes my opinion of it. Beautiful - I didn't know this term. Thanks, Diana!

  2. Thanks for visiting! Looking at the various illuminations I've featured, I have to think that even though it was hard work, obviously, there must have been a certain joy to laying on the colors, determining the balance of gold to blue or red, watching with satisfaction the execution of a perfect line, and then savoring the whole and thinking, "I did it! That's my work!" Of course, I am not, and never have been, an artist, but that is how I imagine it is. Looking at your own work and forgetting for a moment that it IS yours, and acknowledging that it is good.

  3. That looks really cool.

  4. The middle one especially looks three-dimensional. Amazing work.

  5. Hi Diana .. it must have been an art work .. different to the illuminators - but still much admired ... and colours were costly ... so grisaille was what it was .. NickWilford.blogspot.co.uk wrote a very different Grisaille today .. worth checking out .. cheers Hilary

  6. "Grisaille" is a new term for me--and what a lovely word it is. I couldn't say why, but it feels like just the right word to describe what it actually is.

    I like your theory that artist-scribes used the technique to mimic the shimmer of light over polished marble--it certainly accomplishes that.

    Fascinating post. Thank you!