Wednesday, July 2, 2008
This manuscript is a fragment of an early Insular gospel book. It is usually known only by the its shelfmark because there are at least two other fragmentary Insular gospel books at Durham Cathedral (MSS A II 16, and A II 17). MS A II 17 is sometimes called the "Durham Gospels". Kirsten Ataoguz at Early Medieval Art calls this the "Earlier Durham Gospels" and A II 17 the later Durham Gospels.
This manuscript is earliest in a sequence of magnificently decorated gospel books that stretches to the Book of Kells and beyond. This manuscript dates to the early 7th century and is not much younger than the Cathach of St. Columba. The surviving fragments contain two important pieces of decoration, on facing pages. Folio 3v* (see illustration above) contains the end of the the Gospel of Matthew. The text is in the left hand column, the other column contains a frame shaped like three capital letter "Ds" stacked one on top of the other. Each frame is decorated with a knot work pattern, and each frame has a different pattern. (Dr. Ataoguz suggests having students describe these patterns as an exercise in observation and description. Other than noting that the lower 'D' is decorated with a traditional three strand braid, I would find this very difficult.) The triangular spaces between, above and below the "D" frames are filled with larger, looser triangular knots. Inside the frames are written the explicit** to Matthew, the incipit** to the Gospel of Mark, and the Pater Noster, or Lord's Prayer, in Greek, but written in Latin letters. Facing this page is the opening page to the Gospel of Mark. (see illustration at right.) It starts with a large decorated initial. This initial takes the first three letters of the the opening word "Initium" and fuses them into a large monogram. The monogram is shorter on the right side than it is on the left. Each subsequent letter in the opening word is smaller than the preceding letter. This diminuation of letters was first seen in the Cathach. A manuscript of Jerome at Bobbio from the early 7th century also contains an "INI" monogram that is very similar in form to this monogram (see illustration below). This would suggest a fairly wide spread artistic convention.
This manuscript, fragmentary as it is, is still quite important. It is has the first surviving appearance of the knotwork that would a major motif in later Insular manuscripts. The later Insular gospel books would all use monograms similar to the "INI" monogram used here. It shows the continuation of the strong tradition of the diminuation of letters after an enlarged intitial.
The Bobbio Jerome initial. My apologies for the low quality of the image.
* Most manuscripts were not paginated as modern books are. In modern books, each side of a single leaf is given a new page number. Manuscripts are usually foliated, where each leaf is give a number. The two sides are then termed the "recto" and the "verso". The recto is the "front" side, that is the side that is on the right side of the book when it is opened. The other side, the verso is on the left side of the open book. Individual sides of folios are indicated by giving the folio number and an "r" or "v" for recto or verso.
**The incipit and explicit are the terms for text introducing announcing the beginning (incipit) and end (explicit) of a text. An incipit may read something like, "Here begins the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew". For the most part, except for an occasional "The End" at the end of some novels, this practice has died out in modern books.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
The Bobbio Orosius also represents an important movement in the religious and artistic history of Europe. Although the manuscript was produced at a monastery in Italy, it was produced by Irish monks. The monastery in question, Bobbio was founded by St. Columbanus, who was from Ireland. Many important communities on the continent were founded by Irish monks. Many of the important "insular" manuscripts were in fact produced in the scriptoria of these communities. These monasteries were to play a vital role in the religious and artistic life of the next several centuries.
The manuscript itself (Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana MS D. 23. Sup.) is a copy of the Chronicon of Orosius. In the seventeenth century it was given to the newly established Ambrosian Library in Milan, where it remains today. Dr. Ataoguz also has a discussion of this manuscript at Early Medieval Art.
The Stonyhurst Gospel Covers
Saturday, June 7, 2008
The decoration in the Cathach is limited to the first few letters of each Psalm. This decoration establishes several themes that are explored in great depth in later manuscripts. The first letter of each Psalm is enlarged. In earlier manuscripts initial letters had been enlarged and decorated. Bit the decorations in those manuscripts were used to fill space or were appended to the latter. In the Cathach, the decoration distorts the shape of the letter, so that the letter becomes the decoration. Subsequent letters were drawn into the decoration through the gradual shrinking of the letters. In earlier manuscripts the letters after the first letter were the same size as the he rest of the text. In the Cathach, each subsequent letter is a bit smaller than the preceding letter until the letters reach the size of the bulk of the text. The letters are often decorated with small red dots. These three ideas the distortion of letters for decoration, the dimidation of letters, and the use red dots for decoration are ideas worked out in great detail later.
Monday, June 2, 2008
This manuscript represents a bit of a frustration for me. I had read Weitzmann, and some other sources so I thought I had a pretty good idea what were the important manuscripts. Then I checked out Lorenzo Crinelli's, Treasures from Italy's Great Libraries (New York, The Vendome Press, 1997). One of the early manuscripts was this 5th century Coptic Old Testament fragment (Naples, Biblioteca Vittorio Emanuele III, 1 B 18). Illustrated here is Job and his daughters. I wrote an article about it for Wikipedia. It makes me wonder though, how many more very early manuscripts am I missing? Are there other 5th century Coptic manuscripts. What about other eastern manuscripts. I know about Syriac manuscripts (The Rabula Gospels and the Bible in Paris) are there more? I haven't found a text in English on Coptic manuscripts, although there are some in French. It may be worth my while to struggle through them.
All of that aside, so that you won't have go read the Wikipedia article, here are the basics. This is a fragment of 5th century manuscript of the Old Testament written in the Coptic language. The manuscript has only 8 surviving folios and includes the text from the Book of Job and from Proverbs. One folio has a large pen drawing illustrating Job and his daughters with Job pictured as a bearded man wearing a crown and short tunic. His daughters wear tunics with jewels and diadems. The iconography of Job is very different in this manuscript from that in later centuries. Here he is seen as royal figure while in later portrayals he is seen as humbled and sitting on a dung heap.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
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Thursday, April 10, 2008
On this blog, I intend to discuss not only manuscripts, but the whole range of medieval art. I reserve the right to define "medieval" and "art" however the hell I wish. I also hope to be able to point to other resources on medieval art. On the name, Monstrous Beauty, it comes from Bernard of Clairvaux, who when discussing (and denouncing) the Romanesque art that decorated the churches of his day railed against the "beautiful monstrosities and monstrous beauties" he found. I like Romanesque art, and the term "Monstrous Beauty" is indeed a great description of it.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Manuscript illumination, in the broadest sense, covers the decoration or illustration of any written text. The practice started with the Egyptians, who would illustrate portions of The Book of the Dead that would be buried with mummies. One can assume that they illustrated other texts, but so few of those survive it is hard to tell. They certainly would have had to have illustrations in geometry texts. The oldest surviving illustrated text is in fact not from The Book of the Dead, but of a play written to celebrate the accession of Pharaoh Senusret I. It dates to about 1980 BC. Surely other illustrated texts existed.
The Greeks seemed to have learned the practice from the Egyptians. It is significant that there is no evidence of the Greeks illustrating texts before the conquests of Alexander. The Greeks used what Kurt Weitzmann called the "papyrus style", which the Egyptians also used. Since the texts were written on scrolls, heavy paint could not be applied, like it can be to flat pages, as the repeated rolling would cause it to flake off. Instead quick pen and ink drawings were inserted into the columns of text. Pictured here is a papyrus fragment known as the Heracles Papyrus (Oxford, Sackler Library, Oxyrhynchus Pap. 2331) . It tells a portion of the tale of the Twelve Labors of Heracles (or Hercules, if you're feeling Roman), specifically that of the Nemean Lion. Three simple drawings of are inserted into the text columns illustrating the story. Perhaps the drawings were inserted to help a reader quickly find his place in the text, or perhaps because people like pictures. This fragment dates to 3rd century AD, and is one of the few fragments from the classical period illustrating a literary text. Because so few fragments survive, it is impossible to tell if scrolls existed with a higher quality of illustration.
The manuscript names comes form its position in the Cotton Library. Robert Cotton was a 17th century bibliophile. He kept his manuscripts in case above which were busts of Roman emperors and Ladies. These busts were used to Catalog the manuscripts. This manuscripts shelfmark, Caligula A XIV meant that the manuscript was in the case under the bust Caligula, on the first shelf, and 14th book from the left. When the Cotton Library became one of the foundational collections of the British Library, its shelfmarks were retained.
The Fuller Brooch is a large disc made of hammered sheet silver inlaid with black niello and with a diameter of 11.4 cm. Its center roundel is decorated with personifications of the five senses. In the center is Sight with large staring oval eyes, surrounded by the other four senses, each in his own compartment. Taste has a hand in his mouth. Smell's hands are behind his back, and he stands between two tall plants. Touch rubs his hands together. Hearing holds his hand to his ear. This is the earliest known representation of the five senses. In the outer border are human, bird, animal and plant motifs.
This manuscript dates from the 10th century. It has 151 surviving folios with 52 surviving miniatures. It was probably produced at the monastery at San Millán de la Cogolla. It is now in the Escorial.
This is a page from the Quedlinburg Itala fragment. The Quedlinburg Itala fragment was found in the binding of some books from the town of Quedlinburg. It is the oldest surviving Biblical illustrations and is thought to date to the 5th century. The style of the illustrations are similiar to the those found in late Roman manuscripts, notably the Vatican Virgil. The illustrations are heavily damaged. Beneath the illustrations are instructions to the artists on what to paint, giving insight into the working methods of book production during late antiquity.