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La Cité de Dieu (The City of God)
La Cité de Dieu (The City of God), 1408-10
Orosius Master and Assistants, French (active Paris)
Vellum with gold leaf, ink, and paints
Folio (each): 17 1/8 x 12 3/8 inches (43.5 x 31.4 cm) Other (leather-bound box): 19 1/2 x 14 3/4 x 3 3/8 inches (49.5 x 37.5 x 8.6 cm)
The Philip S. Collins Collection, gift of Mrs. Philip S. Collins in memory of her husband, 1945
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Looking and Discussing

Initial observation
Encourage students to describe the miniature, the text, the decorated letters, and the borders.

Open Discussion
Begin an open discussion of the manuscript page by asking students to share their impressions of the work and find visual evidence for their statements.

Directed Looking
  • How was this manuscript made?
    Motivate group brainstorming and information-sharing by distributing cards with the following words printed on them:
    • parchmenter
    • vellum
    • scribe
    • quill
    • illuminator
    • gold leaf
    • burnish
    • miniature
    • squirrel hair
    • tempera
    • pigments
    • glair
    • dragonsblood
    • lapis lazuli
    • bookbinder


  • Looking at this page and the way it is decorated, what can you tell about who commissioned this manuscript?
    Because this book was elaborately decorated with precious materials (including gold), it would have been too expensive for students, monks, or anyone but the very wealthy.
  • What is happening in the miniature?
    One side of the city of Troy, or Illion, is being built while the other is being destroyed. King Laomedon (pronounced lay-O-meh-DON) stands before gold statues of the gods Apollo and Neptune and gestures toward his city. Knights in armor are arriving to attack the city. French and Latin words tell what is happening on each side of the picture and identify some of the figures.
  • What kind of lettering is this? Where can it be seen today?
    The formal Gothic script in this manuscript was used in the late Middle Ages. Today we see this lettering in the mastheads (titles) of some newspapers (such as The New York Times), as well as in invitations, holiday cards, and monograms. A modified Gothic font is also available on many computer software programs.


  • Explore the tools and materials used to make illuminated manuscripts by making pens and brushes from feathers, inventing various ink recipes, and researching the minerals used to make pigments.
  • Experiment with making small books, following these steps for making gatherings or signatures. Fold a piece of paper in half lengthwise to form a folio. Fold in half again, crosswise, to make a quarto (four thicknesses). Fold the paper in half once again, lengthwise, for an octavo (eight thicknesses). Make pages by slicing open the folds along the outer edge with a letter opener or table knife. Design and decorate the pages.
  • Make a large, illuminated, decorated initial using tempera paint, gold foil, and gold ink on watercolor paper.
  • Research the invention of movable type and modern printing, and compare these methods with illuminated manuscript production. Then debate mass production versus handicraft.

For more information, please contact The Division of Education by phone at (215) 684-7580, by fax at (215) 236-4063, or by e-mail at .

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