It is hard to imagine a book of more appeal for those of us who love looking at illuminated manuscripts and house interiors magazines. Eva Oledzka has studied the wealth of detail in the illustrations of medieval and renaissance manuscripts to draw conclusions about domestic life in these periods. The book is lavishly illustrated with detailed captions commenting on the architectural features, furniture, household objects and activities depicted.

Imagine a World of Interiors or House & Garden magazine that also provides information about the lives of the people (indoor and outdoor activities are described.) This is a marvelous social and cultural history of the periods. Even the chapter headings are enticing, for example: Providing a safe haven (doors and stairs, windows); Essential comforts (material possessions and their distribution); Display of wealth, ideas and values through domestic objects.

The illustrations are not restricted to the dwellings and activities of the wealthy, however. Three members of a peasant family warm their legs in front of an open fire in their little cottage, representing February in the Duc de Berry’s Très Riches Heures. An author with a neatly designed and practical desk turns from his book in the Roman de la Rose of Guillaumede Lorris and Jean deMeun. And not all the manuscripts that Oledska refers to With a mixture of sacred and secular settings, a variety of classes represented, and a huge range of activities, Medieval & Renaissance Interiors is an excellent introduction to an interesting subject.

Eva Oledska is Special Collections and Western manuscripts reference librarian at the Bodleian Library, and her beautiful, informative book is published by the British Library.

Robyn Colman