Friday, August 23, 2013

Helmarshausen Psalter, Christ on the Cross, with Mary and St. John, Walters Manuscript W.10, fol. 41v

This small volume of psalms was created for the private use of a noble lady, probably a relative of Duke Henry the Lion (1129-1195). It was made at Helmarshausen, the same monastery that produced the sumptuous Gospels of Henry the Lion, which sold at auction in 1983 for nearly 12 million dollars, making it the most expensive art object sold to that point. This psalter is much smaller and less elaborate than the Gospels, with only three miniatures, but the quality is very high. The identity of the manuscript’s owner, the lady pictured on fol. 6v, has been the subject of much debate. Scholars have conjectured that she is Gertrud, Henry’s daughter, Clementia, his first wife, or Matilda, his second wife. Because the portrait bears no inscription, and because the facing page, which may have shown the lady’s patron saint, is missing, the question must remain open.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Homilary, Portrait of the Evangelist Matthew, Walters Manuscript W.148, fol. 3r

This richly illuminated fourteenth-century German homilary is particularly interesting for its rare bifolium of drawings bound in at the front of the book. The headgear worn by the nuns in the drawings is characteristic of Cistercensian and Premostratensian nuns in northern Germany as early as circa 1320. Evidence for dating and localization is also found in the manuscript's relationship with a second homilary in the Bodleian Library (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms. Douce 185). Despite minor codicological differences--page layout, textblock dimensions, and ruling--it seems likely that the two homilaries were composed as a set in one scriptorium. The drawings at the beginning of the Walters manuscript were inspired by miniatures within the book and are very similar to the style of Master of Douce 185, recently identified as a collaborator of the Willehalm Master. Although the Walters homilary lacks internal evidence for localization, it can be attributed to the lower Rhine on the basis of general affinities between work of this region and English art. The Walters homilary is stylistically close to the small ivory book illustrated with fourteen paintings of the Passion in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. no.11-1872), which has Westphalian and north German characteristics. Palette, figural drawings, the use of checkered spandrels, large ivy-leaf terminals, and ape marginalia in the Walters homilary are also close to fragments of an antiphonary from Westphalia scattered in German collections (Düsseldorf, Universitätsbibliothek, Ms. D. 37a, b, c and Hamm, Städtisches Gustav-Lübcke-Museum, Mss 5474-5476). A second group of stylistically related manuscripts can be found in a two-volume antiphonary from the Dominican nunnery of Paradise near Soest (Düsseldorf, Universitätsbibliothek, Mss. D.7 and D.9).

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Prayer book, Office of the Dead, Walters Manuscript W.182, fol. 67v

This pocket-size prayer book was written in Dutch on fine parchment ca. 1470. The calendar is for the use of Utrecht, which helps localize its original ownership. It is notable for its thirteen full-page illuminations and seven small miniatures for the suffrages, by artists close to the Utrecht school. This manuscript has been grouped with many related works, including Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale 10761, Oxford, Bodleian Library Ms. Douce 30, Utrecht, Aartsbisshoppelijk Museum Ms. 20, the so-called Harberton-Wodhull Hours, private collection, The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek Ms. 131 G8, and Ms. 76 F31.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Alphonsus de Benavento, Treatise, Initial C with Alphonsus offering the book to a bishop, Walters Manuscript W.421, fol. 2r

Alphonsus de Benavento wrote the treatise on penitential canons and acts of confession contained in this manuscript. The colophon informs us that Alphonsus was a professor of canon law at the university of Salmanca, Spain, and wrote this manuscript in 1456 in the nearby city of Tejares. At that time there was a pestilence in the city, for which Alphonsus asks for prayers. A historiated initial in which Alphonsus presents the treatise to a bishop begins the text, and the manuscript still retains its original stamped red leather binding.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Acts and Epistles, Preface to the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, Walters Manuscript W.533, fol. 254v

This manuscript is one of the relatively few illustrated Byzantine copies of the Acts and Epistles of the Apostles. It consists of three parts produced at different dates: the New Testament text with its accompanying prefatory material (known as Euthalian apparatus, after the name of its supposed compiler Euthalius) was copied in the early twelfth century, then lists of readings were added at two stages, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, to facilitate their use in church. Some of the Epistles have lost the miniature that once marked their beginning. A couple of lost leaves were replaced in the sixteenth century.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Gospel Book, Harrowing of Hell, Walters Manuscript W.540, fol. 12r

This manuscript was executed in 1475 by a scribe identified as Aristakes, for a priest named Hakob. It contains a series of 16 images on the life of Christ preceding the text of the gospels, as well as the traditional evangelist portraits, and there are marginal illustrations throughout. The style of the miniatures, which employ brilliant colors and emphasize decorative patterns, is characteristic of manuscript production in the region around Lake Van during the 15th century. The style of Lake Van has often been described in relation to schools of Islamic arts of the book. Numerous inscriptions (on fols. 258-60) spanning a few centuries attest to the manuscript's long history of use and revered preservation. The codex's later history included a re-binding with silver covers from Kayseri that date to approximately 1700. This jeweled and enameled silver binding bears a composition of the Adoration of the Magi on the front and the Ascension on the back.

Friday, March 8, 2013

T'oros Roslin Gospels, The feeding of the five thousand, Walters Manuscript W.539, fol. 67r

This manuscript was made in 1262 by T’oros Roslin, an extremely prominent illuminator, who extended the range of manuscript illuminations by introducing a whole cycle of images into the gospels rather than, as was traditional, only including the portraits of the evangelists. This particular manuscript was created at the scriptorium of Hromkla, which became the leading artistic center of Armenian Cilicia under the rule of catholicos Constantine I (1221-1267). As an extensive colophon starting on fol. 406v explains, T’oros created this manuscript under commission from the nephew of Constantine, a priest also named T’oros. It is one of seven known manuscripts bearing T’oros Roslin’s signature, and it is the most sumptuous of them all, with 15 miniatures and 67 smaller illustrations. The style of the images suggests that T’oros had several assistants helping with the illustrations, though the overall quality remains extremely high. The manuscript was long cherished within the Armenian church. Even in the seventeenth century, its illumination served as a model for Armenian scribes, particularly Bargham and his son Mik’ayel; see Jersualem, Armenian Patriarchate, no. 3438 and Washington DC, Freer Gallery, ms. 36.15; in the latter manuscript, Mik’ayel explicitly refers to “the excellent scribe T’oros, surnamed Roslin.”

Friday, February 22, 2013

Gospels, Opening of Luke's Gospel, Walters Manuscript W.538, fol. 154r

This manuscript was produced at the end of the katholicate of Grigor IV (Tłay) at the monastery of Pawłoskan in Cilicia. The principal colophon on fols. 311r-313v dates the manuscript to 1193 CE (642 AE), and the patron, Bishop Karapet, a resident at the court of Grigor at Hromkla, is recorded in the dedication on fol. 12v. The colophon also records the siege of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187, the Third Crusade (1189-1192) and Frederick Barbarossa's attempt to reclaim Palestine, and Barbarossa's death in 1190. The Canon Tables and the Eusebian letter within quatrefoil frames are decorated with architectural elements, geometric designs, floral motifs, and birds. The codex is further illuminated with historiated and inhabited initials forming the incipits of the Gospels and marginal decoration.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Gospel Book, Jesus Christ; the Evangelist John, Walters Manuscript W.522, fol. 231r

This Gospel book was likely created in the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, in the eleventh century. The manuscript is remarkable on account of its exceptionally small size, as well as the high quality of its script and miniatures. Its extensive image cycle includes six full-page miniatures, four half-page miniatures, four historiated initials, and marginalia.

The Gospel here is preceded by an image of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, thus illustrating John 1:1.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Fathers of the Solovetsky Monastery and their sufferings, Symbols of liturgical reform, Walters Manuscript W.916, fol. 17r

This manuscript was made around 1800 by an often persecuted group of Russian Christians, the “Old Believers.” Because this group frequently had its books confiscated and was denied the use of printing presses, its members continued to write important books such as this one by hand. This text chronicles and illustrates the story of a group of monks at the Solovetsky Monastery who opposed Nikon’s controversial reforms and endured a siege for eight years (1668-1676) before they were finally betrayed. Most of the monks were killed, though some escaped, and many went to the Vyg region, where the author of this book, Simeon Denisov (1682-1741), was a leader in the Old Believer community.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Leaf of a Missal with the Crucifixion and Canon of the Mass, Crucifixion, Walters Manuscript W.757, fol. W.757r

This leaf once belonged to a small Missal, and was created in the late eleventh or early twelfth century. The distinct style of its miniature suggests it was made in Southern Germany, or possibly in the Tyrol region of Austria, where line drawing in colored inks had developed into a regional style. The recto depicts the Crucifixion, and the later redrawing of Christ, especially apparent in his face and feet, suggests it had been worn down through pious touch. On the verso is found the opening text for the Canon of the Mass, introduced by a historiated initial "T" containing a standing man wearing a short skirt. That the manuscript was well-used is attested to both by the heavy wear to the parchment, and by the two original manuscript tabs that were created as page markers for this important text and image.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Single leaf from a Gradual with the Assumption of the Virgin, Initial G with the death and assumption of the Virgin, Walters Manuscript W.756

This leaf originally belonged to a mid-thirteenth-century gradual from southern Germany, or possibly the Seitenstetten region of Austria. The pages contain the fragmentary hymns for the feasts of St. Lawrence and the Assumption of the Virgin. The illumination introduces the latter, in the form of a large historiated initial "G," and depicts the death of the Virgin surrounded by apostles in the lower portion of the initial, while revealing her assumption into Heaven above. Christ appears within a rainbow mandorla and holds a small figure representing Mary's soul, an image that is based on Byzantine iconography. Originally the verso of the leaf, the image was fortuitously preserved due to the recto having been re-used as an account book cover in the early seventeenth century, the title of which is still visible.