Daniel Buck reports on Kathleen Maxwell’s presentation, “Decorative Systems in Byzantine Manuscripts,” given at the Pen, Print, & Pixels conference in May. Just imagine yourself listening to the following from Dr. Maxwell:
Decorative systems are an important element in the paratext. During the latter Byzantine period, scribes also had to include illustrations, or at least leave space for them. To be a scribe was to be a book producer and graphic artist as well as a copyist. A beautifully illustrated MS allows us to make significant conclusions about its patron. By the end of the sixth century a system of illustrations in Greek gospel books had emerged, but we wait until the middle of the ninth century for initials and headpieces.
Art historians have ignored the pandects as art, focusing only on their column layout. There is a dramatic evolution in ornament across Codices Sinaiticus (À, 01), Alexandrinus (A, 02), Vaticanus (B, 03), with focus on the endings of books rather than the beginnings. The pandects have a coronis at the end of every book; in 01 it is what we call a half eta form. The horizontal axis separates the end of the text from the subscription.
The entire post-text inkwork is called the tailpiece, including a vignette or colophon. Sometime it takes the form of a Xi-rho, such as above the end title of Isaiah, but the next column just says IEREIMIAC, with almost a dotted line frame around it, slightly indented in the column.
At the end of Mark in 01 and 02 there are distinctive tailpieces. Many coronides in 03 are simple, but the one at the end of Numbers is heavy, suggesting a candlestick. The end of John is the most elaborate of all. In 02, there is more fanfare for the initials of each book—the first 203 lines are rubricated. The ending coronis is a full right angle frame across the column. The ending of OT books feature a rectangle- or triangle-shaped series of forked paragraphos or diples. In 02, there are some vases in the endpiece similar to vases in the Greek classical period, and four-sided decorative frames such as to end John. Apocalypse ending has a headband, like those frequently found in later MSS.
Thus the late antiquity. Sixth century illustrated manuscripts consist of: three purples (the Rossano Gospels), and the Gold London Canon tables. That’s it for Greek MSS! But a HUGE jump from the fifth century. Little evidence of decoration in the text though. Canon table lost. Seated Mark is the only full-page portrait left from pre-726, when iconoclasts took over, but now those have been added later.
Two fragmentary canon tables are 6/7th cent, just 2 leaves, with more round-framed busts of the apostles. Rabbula gospels are AD 586 in Syriac, and Abu Garimas in Ge’ez dated to the 6th or 7th century by Carbon 14. Still no headpieces or decorated initials at this period. To Carpianus in the Rabbula Gospels is illustrated with the same circled busts, but way more, and smaller. The Garima Gospels also have lavishly illustrated canon tables. Both are thought to be copied from Greek Gospel books. The Ethiopic Garima Gospels has paragraphos, diples, asterisks, and rubrics. There seems to be a hard line between the artist and the scribe here.
Iconoclastism: 726-787. Interlude: 878-815. [843: triumph of orthodoxy] Second: 845-843, and the creative explosion that brought it down and led to the flourishing of Byzantine art.
● Uspenski Gospels, earliest dated MS (from 835). GA 461, written by a reformer of Byzantine monasticism. Still more attention on the end of books than the beginning. Not a whole lot more at front end than 01!
● The earliest MS of Ptolemy’s Almagest shows typical ninth-century tailpieces. Same whether religious or secular MSS, and often made by the same scribes.
● Finally invented the headpiece in 861, GA 844 Sinai Gr 210 Lectionary.
● GA 07 takes it a step further. Kephalaia are now present with lavish two color red and green designs. Red and green titles also.
Q: Is the cross at the kephalaia supposed to be a front-piece for Matthew?
A: Matthew also ends in red & green, but with a frame, so more decorated than at the beginning. No systematic approach to decoration had yet emerged, so that pushes its date back to the eighth century.
Two minuscule purples are from this
period, late ninth century, and probably from the same scribe.
John is the only Gospel-title written in gold, and the John portrait uniquely
has a purple parchment codex pictured on John’s lectern. GA 1143 Berat and GA 565 Grec 53
By GA 420 we have quadrolobe starting the gospel books. Matthew only extant portrait. In GA 030, from the early 900s, the Tholos temple is pictured, much like an illustration in the Garima Gospels. Once we get into the 900s we have a wealth of riches, even manipulation of the text. Princeton Garrett 1 opens Mark in cruciform uncial, and features a hugely lavish tailpiece.
The Leo Bible is a very archaizing MS dated to c. 940 (the first volume is extant). Vat Reg Gr 1 looks like a knockoff of 02.
In the Rabbula Gospels there are peacocks adorning the canon tables. Paris Grec 70 also has peacocks in the canon tables. Matthew’s portrait was replaced by just a framed headpiece. It has a Bluutenleitspiel, flower-petal style, in the headpiece.
GA 1110 is held up as the standard for elaborate Byzantine art on the canon tables, topped by birds as usual. Canon table design really comes into its own in the 11-12th century. Gospel portraits are very elaborate with Roman imperial backgrounds. Finally in the tenth century, the full decorative system takes over, complementing the text without overwhelming it, with endings more minimized from now on.
Dan Wallace asked: two of them had the evangelist facing away from the biblical text. Any change or standardization?
A: That was the “pensive John” often shown this way, contemplating rather than writing.
Daniel Buck asked: What was the system for the text in the codex pictured within the evangelists’ portraits?
A: Usually if
legible, the opening words of their own gospel.
You can learn so much more about how a MS was produced when you find one
unfinished. Sometimes drawn in but not painted, sometimes just blank.
Additional information about the Pen, Print, & Pixels conference is available at the blog of CSNTM.