11.22.2010

Illuminated Letters

Illuminated letters mix very nicely with children's picture books. To me these type of letters are like jewelry or a miniature piece of art. Some are artwork on their own. Here are several that I've found in my own books, just a sampling of what's out there. I hope you enjoy it. 

1. From A Child's Garden of Verses illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen, Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1951  
2. From The Animal Fair by Alice and Martin Provensen, Golden Books Publishing Co., 1999 
3.  From The House that Jack Built illustrated by J.P. Miller, Random House, Inc., 2008
4. From One Kitten for Kim by Adelaide Holl, illustrated by Don Madden, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1969.
5. Green Tiger's Illustrated ABC, Green Tiger Press,  illustrator Vojtech Kuba sta from Sing a Song of Sixpence, 1960.


The decorated letters that you may see at the beginning of a story have a long history. Strongly associated with illuminated manuscripts from Medieval times, the decorated letter actually dates back to somewhere around the 4th Century A.D.  In researching these letters I found that there are different names and categories for them.  They can be called historiated, illuminated, illustrated, illuminations, ornamented, figurative, inhabited or decorated and referred to as an initial or letter. Initial is derived from the Latin initialis, which means standing at the beginning. The earliest decorated letters were done to call attention to the beginning of a text or its most important passages. Eventually artists started to concentrate their work on these letters. Grand and elaborate foliage patterns embellished sacred words in religious books. 



1. From Christmas by Jan Pienkowski, Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.
2. From How the Guinea Fowl Got Her Spots by Barbara Knutson., Carolrhoda Books Inc., 1990.
3. From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, translated by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert., Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973.
4. From Chanticleer and the Fox, Adapted from the Canterbury Tales, and illustrated by Barbara Cooney, Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1958.  
5. From Cinderella and Other Stories retold by Jeanne Cappe, illustrated by J.L. Huens, Grosset & Dunlap, 1957.


historiated initial is an enlarged letter at the beginning of a paragraph or other section of text, which contains a picture or subject matter related to the text.  An inhabited initial contains figures (human or animal) that are decorative only. Figurative initials are closely related, the form of the letter itself is made up of contorted bodies of people or creatures.  Historiated and inhabited letters were used in illuminated manuscripts and were first seen in the early 8th century. The size and decoration of the initial were related to its importance and location. Letters that began a new section of text or a noteworthy section might receive more decoration and space. In luxury manuscripts, an entire page might be devoted to a historiated initial. Both the size and ostentatiousness of a manuscript reflected the status and it's owner. Manuscripts commissioned by wealthy patrons often possessed gold or silver illuminations, whereas simpler examples just used pen and ink. If you would like to read more about these initials here are two references - The J. Paul Getty Museum site - http://getty.edu/art/exhibitions/decorated_letter/ and wikepedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Initial. There are many other sites also.



1. From the Tasha Tudor Book of Fairy Tales, Platt & Munk, 1969. 
2. From The Park Book by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by H.A. Rey, E.M. Hale & Co., 1944. 
3. From Walt Disney's Pinocchio, A Big Golden Book, Golden Press, 1967.  
4.From the Tasha Tudor Book of Fairy Tales. Platt & Munk, 1969. 
5. From Finist, The Bright Eyed Falcon, Malysh Publishing House Moscow, 1979. 
6. From the Tall Book of Nursery Tales, illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky, Harper Row, 1944 

1 comment:

  1. An excellent, creative collection! What a great idea of yours. I especially love the second set that you put together. It made me realize how just the first letter--illuminated!--can charm, entice, and set the mood for a story. The hunter from your Snow White makes me want to sit down a read a 500-page novel into which that one letter leads. Maybe I should write it, because, before I looked at the footnotes, it didn't take me into Snow White's world, but into a different world of wonder, snow, nature, romance.

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