Monday, May 2, 2011

Uncial Talk (4) - MS Illumination, C. Nordenfalk

Croatian Initials
Again we continue the series with a short quotation from another great book on the history of manuscripts, Book Illumination, Early Middle Ages, by Carl Nordenfalk, Curator, Nat. Mus. Sweden (1957, 1988, 1995). 
"...But though the art of the illuminated MS was typically medieval, it was not, like the stained-glass window for example, invented in the Middl Ages.  Long before this, in ancient Egypt, the papyrus rolls...were supplied with colored illustrations.  And though the Greeks of the Hellenistic Age did not give illumination a leading place... there can be no doubt that illustrations often figured in their books. guide-marks..these were all the more useful since in early MSS columns were not numbered [or indexed].
During the 2nd - 4th centuries A.D. the papyrus scroll was gradually supplanted by the vellum codex, which furnished new support for illustrations...for portraits of authors, ...inserted in the columns of text, usually without frames or backgrounds. 
The oldest extant miniatures in painted frames date without exception to the 4th century A.D. ...when classical culture was beginning to decline.  the 'illusionist' technique of antique painting...perpetuating the art of previous centuries...was particularly striking during the Carolingian renaissance.   The Roman Calendar for 354 A.D. is a case in point; nothing of it survives, but we have 16th-17th cent. Carolingian copies...reproduced so faithfully that one is hardly conscious of the intervention of the Carolingian copyist. 
We learn from Egyptian papyrus that in book rolls of the Hellenistic epoch it was already customary to frame tabular texts with ornamental colonnettes. 
A richly decorated Bible was used as a model by painters at Tours in the 9th century.  Four large-size pictures, to fo rthe Old and two for the New Testament, sponsor an interpretation of the doctrine of Redemption, intended to counterblast the Manichean heresy, possibly a 'proclamation' of Pope Leo the Great (440-461 A.D.).   Classical details such as heads and gestures, ...perspective, link up with earlier MSS.  ...however, ...the tendency to bring figures forward, and diversity is replaced by smaller selection of types...the beginnings of a new pictorial language that, after gaining ground in the late 5th century, attained its culmination in the reign of Justinian.  
During the 6th century book production passed more and more into the hands of the Church and the copyists were chiefly employed on making Gospel Books.  But the time was not yet ripe for a final break with the art tradition of antiquity.  Judging by surviving works, the only decorative elements of the Gospel Books in 4 / 5 cases were limited to simple linear ornaments around the colophons.  only the Canon Tables or "concordances", invented by Eusebius of Caesarea (d. 340 A.D.) formed a real exception, having decorative arches.  This type of decoration soon became standardized, and Jerome employed them in the West for his new Latin Vulgate.
That no examples earlier than the 6th century are extant can be explained by the pillaging of Italian churches in the intervening period.  ...
During the period before political upheavals and pariticularly the Arab invasions of the 7th century had almost extinguished the art of the illustrated book in the Latin countries around the Mediteranean basin, an important atelier somewhere in southwest Europe produced a MS whose full-page pictures excel those in all others of this period, the so-called Ashburnham Pentateuch. " (selections abbrev., p. 1-24)


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