What is miniature? Miniature, or illumination, is the painted decoration of a manuscript book, generally done using watercolours or tempera on various grounds (especially parchment and paper). Sources indicate that the colours most used in the Renaissance were black, white, red, yellow, light blue, violet, pink and green. These were mixed using pigments of mineral, animal and plant origin. The minerals were ground in mortars or extremely hard stones, such as porphyry, while pigments of animal and plant origin were obtained through maceration.

The most commonly used minerals included ochres and coloured earth (which gave the reds, oranges, yellows and browns); cinnabar and red lead; biacca (lead white) and ‘St. John’s white’ made of chalk; carbon black; verdigris; azurite and the more precious ultramarine, made from lapis lazuli. The organic pigments (lake pigments) were made by precipitating animal and plant dyes with a mordant based on aluminium salts. They were noted for their translucence, or semi-translucence. For this reason they were prized from the late Middle Ages onwards for obtaining glazes.

The gold background of initials or painted scenes was done using gold powder (shell gold) or with extremely thin gold leaf, applied directly to the parchment with egg white or a layer of gesso.