Illuminated Manuscripts
by John W. Bradley
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Illuminated Manuscripts

John Bradley






What is meant by art?—The art faculty—How artists may be compared—The aim of illumination—Distinction between illumination and miniature—Definition of illumination—The first miniature painter—Origin of the term "miniature"—Ovid's allusion to his little book.



Difference between vellum and parchment—Names of different preparations—The kinds of vellum most prized for illuminated books—The "parcheminerie" of the Abbey of Cluny—Origin of the term "parchment"—Papyrus.



Its different styles—Origin of Western alphabets—Various forms of letters—Capitals, uncials, etc.—Texts used in Western Europe—Forms of ancient writings—The roll, or volume—The codex—Tablets—Diptychs, etc.—The square book—How different sizes of books were produced.



The first miniature painter—The Vatican Vergils—Methods of painting—Origin of Christian art—The Vienna Genesis—The Dioscorides—The Byzantine Revival.



The rebuilding of the city of Byzantium the beginning of Byzantine art—Justinian's fondness for building and splendour—Description of Paul the Silentiary—Sumptuous garments—The Gospel-book of Hormisdas—Characteristics of Byzantine work—Comparative scarcity of examples—Rigidity of Byzantine rules of art—Periods of Byzantine art—Examples—Monotony and lifelessness of the style.



Early liturgical books reflect the ecclesiastical art of their time—This feature a continuous characteristic of illumination down to the latest times—Elements of Celtic ornament—Gospels of St. Chad—Durham Gospels—Contrast of Celtic and Byzantine—St. Columba—Book of Kells—Details of its decoration.



The Iona Gospels—Contrast with Roman and Byzantine—Details—Treatment of animal forms—Colour schemes—The Gospel-book of St. Columbanus—That of Mael Brith Mac Durnan—The Lindisfarne Gospels—Cumdachs—Other book-shrines.



Visigothic—Merovingian—Lombardic—Extinction of classic art—Splendid reign of Dagobert—St. Eloy of Noyon—The Library of Laon—Natural History of Isidore of Seville—Elements of contemporary art—Details of ornament—Symbolism—Luxeuil and Monte Cassino—Sacramentary of Gellone—"Prudentius"—"Orosius"—Value of the Sacramentary of Gellone.



The initial and initial paragraph the main object of decoration in Celtic illumination—Study of the letter L as an example—The I of "In principio" and the B of "Beatus Vir".



Transition from Iona to Lindisfarne—Influence of Frankish art—The "Opus Anglicum"—The Winchester school and its characteristics—Whence obtained—Method of painting—Examples—Where found and described.



Why so-called—Works to be consulted—The Library of St. Gall—Rise and progress of Carolingian art—Account of various MSS.—Feature of the style—Gospels of St. Sernin—The Ada-Codex—Centres of production—Other splendid examples—The Alcuin Bible—The Gospel of St. Mdard of Soissons.



Introductory—Monasteries and their work from the sixth to the ninth century—The claustral schools—Alcuin—Warnefrid and Theodulf—Clerics and monastics—The Golden Age of monasticism—The Order of St. Benedict—Cistercian houses—Other Orders—Progress of writing in Carolingian times—Division of labour.



The copyist—Gratuitous labour—Last words of copyists—Disputes between Cluny and Citeaux—The Abbey of Cluny: its grandeur and influences—Use of gold and purple vellum—The more influential abbeys and their work in France, Germany, and the Netherlands.



Departure from Carolingian—Bird and serpent—Common use of dracontine forms in letter-ornament—Influence of metal-work on the forms of scroll-ornament—The vine-stem and its developments—Introduction of Greek taste and fashion into Germany—Cistercian illumination—The Othonian period—Influence of women as patronesses and practitioners—German princesses—The Empress Adelheid of Burgundy—The Empress Theophano—Henry II. and the Empress Cunegunda—Bamberg—Examples of Othonian art.



The later Saxon schools—Bernward of Hildesheim—Tuotilo and Hartmut of St. Gallen—Portrait of Henry II. in MS. 40 at Munich—Netherlandish and other work compared—Alleged deterioration of work under the Franconian Emperors not true—Bad character of the eleventh century as to art—Example to the contrary.



The "Manual"—Its discovery—Its origin and contents—Didron's translation—The "Compendium" of Theophilus—Its contents—English version by Hendrie—Benedictine and Cistercian illumination—How they differ—Character of monastic architects and artists.



Germany the chief power in Europe in the twelfth century—Rise of Italian influence—The Emmeram MSS.—Coronation of Henry II.—The Apocalypse—The "Hortus Deliciarum"—Romanesque—MS. of Henry the Lion—The Niedermnster Gospels—Description of the MS.—Rise of Gothic—Uncertainty of its origin—The spirit of the age.




The Gothic spirit—A "zeitgeist" not the invention of a single artist nor of a single country—The thirteenth century the beginning of the new style—Contrast between North and South, between East and West, marked in the character of artistic leaf-work—Gradual development of Gothic foliage—The bud of the thirteenth century, the leaf of the fourteenth, and the flower of the fifteenth—The Freemasons—Illumination transferred from the monastery to the lay workshop—The Psalter of St. Louis—Characteristics of French Gothic illumination—Rise of the miniature as a distinct feature—Guilds—Lay artists.



The fourteenth century the true Golden Age of Gothic illumination—France the cradle of other national styles—Netherlandish, Italian, German, etc.—Distinction of schools—Difficulty of assigning the provenance of MSS.—The reason for it—MS. in Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge—The Padua Missal—Artists' names—Whence obtained.



Ivy-leaf and chequered backgrounds—Occasional introduction of plain burnished gold—Reign of Charles VI. of France—The Dukes of Orleans, Berry, and Burgundy; their prodigality and fine taste for MSS.—Christine de Pisan and her works—Description of her "Mutation of Fortune" in the Paris Library—The "Roman de la Rose" and "Cit des Dames"—Details of the French style of illumination—Burgundian MSS., Harl. 4431—Roy. 15 E. 6—The Talbot Romances—Gradual approach to Flemish on the one hand and Italian on the other.



Organisation of the monastic scriptoria—Professional outsiders: lay artists—The whole sometimes the work of the same practitioner—The Winchester Abbeys of St. Swithun's and Hyde—Their vicissitudes—St. Alban's—Westminster—Royal MS. 2 A 22—Description of style—The Tenison Psalter—Features of this period—The Arundel Psalter—Hunting and shooting scenes, and games—Characteristic pictures, grotesques, and caricatures—Queen Mary's Psalter—Rapid changes under Richard II.—Royal MS. 2 E. 9—Their cause.



Attributed to the Netherlands—Not altogether French—The home of Anne of Bohemia, Richard II.'s Queen—Court of Charles IV. at Prag—Bohemian Art—John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia—The Golden Bull of Charles IV.—Marriage of Richard II.—The transformation of English work owing to this marriage and the arrival of Bohemian artists in England—Influence of Queen Anne on English Art and Literature—Depression caused by her death—Examination of Roy. MS. 1 E. 9 and 2 A. 18—The Grandison Hours—Other MSS.—Introduction of Flemish work by Edward IV.



Barbaric character of Italian illumination in the twelfth century—Ravenna and Pavia the earliest centres of revival—The "Exultet"—La Cava and Monte Cassino—The writers of early Italian MSS. not Italians—In the early fourteenth century the art is French—Peculiarities of Italian foliages—The Law Books—Poems of Convenevole da Prato, the tutor of Petrarch—Celebrated patrons—The Laon Boethius—The Decretals, Institutes, etc.—"Decretum Gratiani," other collections and MSS.—Statuts du Saint Esprit—Method of painting—Don Silvestro—The Rationale of Durandus—Nicolas of Bologna, etc.—Triumphs of Petrarch—Books at San Marco, Florence—The Brera Graduals at Milan—Other Italian collections—Examples of different localities in the British Museum—Places where the best work was done—Fine Neapolitan MS. in the British Museum—The white-vine style superseded by the classical renaissance.



Frederick II., Stupor Mundi, and his MS. on hunting—The Sicilian school mainly Saracenic, but a mixture of Greek, Arabic, and Latin tastes—The Franconian Emperors at Bamberg—Charles of Anjou—The House of Luxembourg at Prag—MSS. in the University Library—The Collegium Carolinum of the Emperor Charles IV.—MSS. at Vienna—The Wenzel Bible—The Weltchronik of Rudolf v. Ems at Stuttgard—Wilhelm v. Oranse at Vienna—The Golden Bull—Various schools—Hildesheimer Prayer-book at Berlin—The Nuremberg school—The Glockendons—The Brethren of the Pen.



What is meant by the Netherlands—Early realism and study of nature—Combination of symbolism with imitation—Anachronism in design—The value of the pictorial methods of the old illuminators—The oldest Netherlandish MS.—Harlinda and Renilda—The nunnery at Maas-Eyck—Description of the MS.—Thomas Kempis—The school of Zwolle—Character of the work—The use of green landscape backgrounds—The Dukes of Burgundy—Netherlandish artists—No miniatures of the Van Eycks or Memling known to exist—Schools of Bruges, Ghent, Lige, etc.—Brussels Library—Splendid Netherlandish MSS. at Vienna—Gerard David and the Grimani Breviary—British Museum—"Romance of the Rose"—"Isabella" Breviary—Grisailles.



Communication with Italy—Renaissance not sudden—Origin of the schools of France and Burgundy—Touraine and its art—Fouquet—Brentano MSS.—"Versailles Livy"—Munich "Boccaccio," etc.—Perral and Bourdichon—"Hours of Anne of Brittany"—Poyet—The school of Fontainebleau—Stained glass—Jean Cousin—Gouffier "Heures"—British Museum Offices of Francis I.—Dinteville Offices—Paris "Heures de Montmorency", "Heures de Dinteville," etc.



Late period of Spanish illumination—Isidore of Seville—Archives at Madrid—Barcelona—Toledo—Madrid—Choir-books of the Escorial—Philip II.—Illuminators of the choir-books—The size and beauty of the volumes—Fray Andrs de Leon and other artists—Italian influence—Giovanni Battista Scorza of Genoa—Antonio de Holanda, well-known Portuguese miniaturist in sixteenth century—His son Francesco—The choir-books at Belem—French invasion—Missal of Gonalvez—Sandoval Genealogies—Portuguese Genealogies in British Museum—The Stowe Missal of John III.



The invention of printing—Its very slight affect on illuminating—Preference by rich patrons for written books—Work produced in various cities in the sixteenth century—Examples in German, Italian, and other cities, and in various public libraries up to the present time.







What is meant by art?—The art faculty—How artists may be compared—The aim of illumination—Distinction between illumination and miniature—Definition of illumination—The first miniature painter—Origin of the term "miniature"—Ovid's allusion to his little book.

The desire for decoration is probably as old as the human race. Nature, of course, is the source of beauty, and this natural beauty affects something within us which has or is the faculty of reproducing the cause of its emotion in a material form. Whether the reproduction be such as to appeal to the eye or the ear depends on the cast of the faculty. In a mild or elementary form, probably both casts of faculty exist in every animated creature, and especially in the human being.

Art being the intelligent representation of that quality of beauty which appeals to any particular observer, whoever exercises the faculty of such representation is an artist.

Greatness or otherwise is simply the measure of the faculty, for in Nature herself there is no restriction. There is always enough of beauty in Nature to fill the mightiest capacity of human genius. Artists, therefore, are measured by comparison with each other in reference to the fraction of art which they attempt to reproduce.

The art of illumination does not aim at more than the gratification of those who take pleasure in books. Its highest ambition is to make books beautiful.

To some persons, perhaps, all ordinary books are ugly and distasteful. Probably they are so to the average schoolboy. Hence the laudable endeavour among publishers of school-books to make them attractive. The desire that books should be made attractive is of great antiquity. How far back in the world's history we should have to go to get in front of it we cannot venture to reckon. The methods of making books attractive are numerous and varied. That to which we shall confine our attention is a rather special one. Both its processes and its results are peculiar. Mere pictures or pretty ornamental letters in sweet colours and elegant drawing do not constitute illumination, though they do form essential contributions towards it; and, indeed, in the sixteenth century the clever practitioners who wished, in bright colours, to awaken up the old woodcuts used to call themselves illuminists, and the old German books which taught how the work should be done were called Illuminir bcher. Illuminists were not illuminators.

In the twelfth century when, as far as we know, the word illuminator was first applied to one who practised the art of book decoration, it meant one who "lighted up" the page of the book with bright colours and burnished gold.

These processes suggest the definition of the art. Perfect illumination must contain both colours and metals. To this extent it is in perfect unison with the other medival art of heraldry; it might almost be called a twin-sister.

As an art it is much older than its name. We find something very like it even among the ancient Egyptians, for in the Louvre at Paris is a papyrus containing paintings of funeral ceremonies, executed in bright colours and touched in its high lights with pencilled gold. But after this for many centuries there remains no record of the existence of any such art until just before the Christian era. Then, indeed, we have mention of a lady artist who painted a number of miniature portraits for the great biographical work of the learned Varro. We must carefully observe, however, that there is a distinction between illumination and mere miniature painting. Sometimes it is true that miniatures—as e.g. those of the early Byzantine artists, and afterwards those of Western Europe—were finished with touches of gold to represent the lights. This brought them into the category of illuminations, for while miniatures may be executed without the use of gold or silver, illuminations may not. There are thousands of miniatures that are not illuminations.

At the period when illuminating was at its best the miniature, in its modern sense of a little picture, was only just beginning to appear as a noticeable feature, and the gold was as freely applied to it as to the penmanship or the ornament. But such is not the case with miniature painting generally.

Lala of Cyzicus, the lady artist just referred to, lived in the time of Augustus Csar. She has the honour of being the first miniaturist on record, and is said to have produced excellent portraits "in little," especially those of ladies, on both vellum and ivory. Her own portrait, representing her engaged in painting a statuette, is still to be seen among the precious frescoes preserved in the museum at Naples.

The term "miniature," now applied to this class of work, has been frequently explained. It is derived from the Latin word minium, or red paint, two pigments being anciently known by this name—one the sulphide of mercury, now known also as "vermilion," the other a lead oxide, now called "red lead." It is the latter which is generally understood as the minium of the illuminators, though both were used in manuscript work. The red paint was employed to mark the initial letters or sections of the MS. Its connection with portraiture and other pictorial subjects on a small scale is entirely owing to its accidental confusion by French writers with their own word mignon, and so with the Latin minus. In classical times, among the Romans, the "miniator" was simply a person who applied the minium, and had nothing to do with pictures or portraits at all, but with the writing. That the rubrication of titles, however, was somewhat of a luxury may be gathered from the complaint of Ovid when issuing the humble edition of his verses from his lonely exile of Tomi:—

"Parve (nec invideo) sine me liber ibis in urbem: Hei mihi quo domino non licet ire tuo. ........................... Nec te purpureo velent vaccinia succo Non est conveniens luctibus ille color. Nec titulus minio, nec cedro carta notetur Candida nec nigra cornua fronte geras."[1]

Tristia, Cl. 1, Eleg. 1.

[1] "Go, little book, nor do I forbid,—go without me into that city where, alas! I may enter never more.... Nor shall whortleberries adorn thee with their crimson juice; that colour is not suitable for lamentations. Nor shall thy title be marked with minium, nor thy leaf scented with cedar-oil. Nor shalt thou bear horns of ivory or ebony upon thy front."

There are many allusions in these pathetic lines which would bear annotation, but space forbids. The one point is the use of minium.



Difference between vellum and parchment—Names of different preparations—The kinds of vellum most prized for illuminated books—The "parcheminerie" of the Abbey of Cluny—Origin of the term "parchment"—Papyrus.

As vellum is constantly spoken of in connection with illumination and illuminated books, it becomes necessary to explain what it is, and why it was used instead of paper.

We often find writers, when referring to ancient documents, making use of the words parchment and vellum as if the terms were synonymous; but this is not strictly correct. It is true that both are prepared from skins, but the skins are different. They are similar, but not the same, nor, indeed, are they interchangeable. In point of fact, the skins of almost all the well-known domestic animals, and even of fishes, have been used for the purpose of making a material for writing upon. Specifically among the skins so prepared were the following: the ordinary lambskin, called "aignellinus"[2]; that prepared from stillborn lambs, called "virgin parchment."

[2] Strictly agnellinus.

From sheepskins was produced ordinary "parchment," and also a sort of leather called "basane" or "cordovan." Vellum was produced from calfskin; that of the stillborn calf being called "uterine vellum," and considered the finest and thinnest. It is often spoken of in connection with the exquisitely written Bibles of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as of the highest value.

Besides these were the prepared skins of oxen, pigs, and asses; but these were chiefly used for bindings, though occasionally for leaves of account and other books liable to rough usage.

Before the tenth century the vellum used for MSS. is highly polished, and very white and fine. Afterwards it becomes thick and rough, especially on the hair side. In the examination of certain MSS. the distinction of hair side and smooth side is of importance in counting the gatherings so as to determine the completeness, or otherwise, of a given volume. Towards the period of the Renaissance, however, the vellum gradually regains its better qualities.

Thus it may be seen that the difference between vellum and parchment is not a mere difference of thickness; for while, in general, vellum is stouter than parchment, there is some vellum which is thinner than some parchment. Not only are they made from different kinds of skin, but the vellum used for illuminated books was, and still is, prepared with greater care than the parchment used for ordinary school or college treatises, or legal documents.

The fabrication of both parchment and vellum in the Middle Ages was quite as important a matter as that of paper at the present time, and certain monastic establishments had a special reputation for the excellence of their manufacture. Thus the "parcheminerie," as it was called, of the Abbey of Cluny, in France, was quite celebrated in the twelfth century. One reason probably for this celebrity was the fact that Cluny had more than three hundred churches, colleges, and monasteries amongst its dependencies, and therefore had ample opportunities for obtaining the best materials and learning the best methods in use throughout literary Christendom. As to the name "vellum," it is directly referable to the familiar Latin term for the hide or pelt of the sheep or other animal, but specially applied, as we have said, to that of the calf, the writing material thus prepared being termed charta vitulina—in French vlin, and in monastic Latin and English vellum.

The name "parchment" had quite a different kind of origin. It is an old story, found in Pliny's Natural History (bk. xiii. ch. 70), that the ancient use or revival of the use of parchment was due to the determination of King Eumenes II. of Mysia or Pergamos to form a library which should rival those of Alexandria, but that when he applied to Egypt for papyrus, the writing materials then in use, Ptolemy Epiphanes jealously refused to permit its exportation. In this difficulty Eumenes, we are told, had recourse to the preparation of sheepskins, and that from the place of its invention it was called charta pergamena.

Pliny and his authority, however, were both wrong in point of history. Eumenes, who reigned from about 197 to 158 B.C., was not the inventor, but the restorer of its use (see Herodotus, v. 58). It was called in Greek μεμβράνα (2 Tim. iv. 13).

We may mention, by the way, that neither vellum nor parchment are by any means the oldest materials known. Far older, and more generally used in Italy, Greece, and Egypt, was the material which has given us the name of our commonest writing material of to-day, viz. paper. The name of this older material was papyrus (Gr. πάπυρος and χάρτης). As a writing material it was known in Egypt from remote antiquity. It was plentiful in Rome in the time of the Csars, and it continued, both in Grecian and Roman Egypt, to be the ordinary material employed down to the middle of the tenth century of our era. In Europe, too, it continued in common use long after vellum had been adopted for books, though more especially for letters and accounts. St. Jerome mentions vellum as an alternative material in case papyrus should fail (Ep. vii.), and St. Augustine (Ep. xv.) apologises for using vellum instead of papyrus.[3] Papyrus was also used in the early Middle Ages. Examples, made up into book-formi.e. in leaves, with sometimes a few vellum leaves among them for stability—are still extant. Among such are some seven or eight books in various European libraries, the best known being the Homilies of St. Avitus at Paris, the Antiquities of Josephus at Milan, and the Isidore at St. Gall.

[3] Thompson, Greek and Latin Palography, p. 33.

And in the Papal Chancery papyrus appears to have been used down to a late date in preference to vellum.[4]

[4] Thompson, op. cit., p. 34; Aug. Molinier, Les Manuscrits, Prlim.; Lecoy de la Marche, Les MSS. et la Miniature, p. 24.

In France papyrus was in common use in the sixth and seventh centuries. Merovingian documents dating from 625 to 692 are still preserved in Paris.



Its different styles—Origin of Western alphabets—Various forms of letters—Capitals, uncials, etc.—Texts used in Western Europe—Forms of ancient writings—The roll, or volume—The codex—Tablets—Diptychs, etc.—The square book—How different sizes of books were produced.

Seeing that illumination grew originally out of the decoration of the initial letters, our next point to notice is the penmanship. The alphabet which we now use is that formerly used by the Romans, who borrowed it from the Greeks, who in turn obtained it (or their modification of it) from the Phoenicians, who, lastly it is said, constructed it from that of the Egyptians. Of course, in these repeated transfers the letters themselves, as well as the order of them, underwent considerable alterations. With these we have here no concern. Our alphabet, i.e. the Roman and its variations, is quite sufficient for our story. In order to show as clearly as may be the varieties of lettering and the progress of penmanship from classical times to the revival of the old Roman, letters in the fifteenth century, we offer the following synopsis, which classifies and indicates the development of the different hands used by writers and illuminators of MSS. It is constructed on the information given in Wailly's large work on Palography, and in Dr. de Grey Birch's book on the Utrecht Psalter. The former work affords excellent facsimiles, which, together with those given in the plates published by the Palographical Society, will give the student the clearest possible ideas respecting these ancient handwritings.

Omitting the cursive or correspondence hand, the letters used by the Romans were of four kinds—capitals (usually made angular to be cut in stone), rustic, uncials, and minuscules.

The rounded capitals were intended to be used in penwork. Uncials differ from capitals only in the letters A, D, E, G, M, Q, T, V, for the sake of ease in writing. It is said that this class of letters was first called uncials from being made an inch (uncia) high, but this is mere tradition; the word is first used on Jerome's preface to the Book of Job. No uncials have ever been found measuring more than five-eighths of an inch in height.

For the assistance of such students as may wish for examples we must refer to certain MSS. and reproductions in which the foregoing hands are exemplified.


Capitals, yet not pure. The Vatican Vergil, No. 3225, throughout (Birch, p. 14; Silvestre's Palographie universelle, pl. 74).

With regard to the relative antiquity of capitals and uncials, M. de Wailly observes: "The titles in pure uncials, but less than the text itself, give an excellent index to the highest antiquity. This is verified in MSS. 152, 2630, 107 of the Bibl. du Roi, etc. MSS. of the seventh or eighth century, whether on uncial or demi-uncial, or any other letter, are never constant in noting the title at the top of the page, or the kind of writing will vary, or if uncials be constantly used, the titles will not be smaller than the text. These variations become still greater in the following centuries. The ornaments which relieve the titles of each page commence about the eighth century" (i. p. 49 C).

Capitals and Uncials. The Homilies of St. Augustine (Silvestre, pl. 74). Augustine Opera, Paris Lib., 11641 (Palograph. Soc., pl. 42, 43).

Rustic. The Second Vatican Vergil, No. 3867 (Wailly, pl. 2), called the "Codex Romanus."


Rustic and Uncial. The Montamiata Bible (Birch, 35; Wailly, pl. 2, 4).

Rustic and Minuscule. The Cambridge Gospels (Westwood, Palograph. Sacra Pictoria, pl. 45).

Uncials. Gospels in Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 5463. Paris Lib., Gregory of Tours (Silvestre, pl. 86). Vienna Imp. Lib., Livy (Silvestre, pl. 75). Brit. Mus., Harl. 1775 (Palograph. Soc., pl. 16).


Uncials and Minuscule. The St. Chad's Gospels in library of Lichfield Cathedral (Palograph. Soc., pl. 20, 21, 35).


Capitals and Minuscules. Paris Lib., Bible of Charles the Bald.

There is scarcely anything more difficult to judge than the true age of square capital MSS. or of pure uncials. Even the rustic capitals, like the first Vatican Vergil, No. 3225, are extremely rare. The letters in this MS. are about three-sixteenths of an inch high.


Lombardic. The national hand of Italy. Founded on the old Roman cursive, it does not attain to any great beauty until the tenth or eleventh century. Examples may be seen in Palographical Society, pl. 95, and in the excellent lithographs published by the monks of Monte Cassino (Paleografia artistica di Monte Cassino, Longobardo-Cassinese, tav. xxxiv., etc.). A very fine example occurs in pl. xv., dated 1087-88. Its characteristic letters are a, e, g, t.

Visigothic. The national hand of Spain. Also founded on the old Roman cursive. It becomes an established hand in the eighth century, and lasts until the twelfth. Examples occur in Ewald and Loewe, Exempla Scriptur Visigotic, Heidelberg, 1883. It was at first very rude and illegible, but afterwards became even handsome. A fine example exists in the British Museum (Palograph. Soc., pl. 48). Its characteristic letters are g, s, t.

Merovingian. The national hand of France. A hand made up chiefly of loops and angles in a cramped, irregular way. Its derivation the same as the preceding. In the seventh century it is all but illegible. In the eighth it is much better, and almost easy to read.

Celtic. The national hand of Ireland. It is founded on the demi-uncial Roman, borrowed as to type from MSS. taken to Ireland by missionaries. It is bold, clear, and often beautiful, lending itself to some of the most astonishing feats of penmanship ever produced.

Such are the chief varieties of writing found in the MSS. produced before the great revival of the arts and learning which took place during the reign of Charles the Great (Karl der Grosse), known familiarly as Charlemagne.

Wattenbach (Schriftwesen, etc.) says that uncials date from the second century A.D. From examples still extant of the fifth and following centuries, it seems that while the Roman capitals were not uncommon, in Celtic MSS. the form generally adopted was the uncial. It was the form also usually chosen for ornamentation or imitation in those Visigothic, Merovingian, or Lombardic MSS., which made such remarkable use of fishes, birds, beasts, and plants for the construction of initial letters and principal words, of which we see so many examples in the elaborately illustrated Catalogue of the library at Laon by Ed. Fleury, and in that of Cambray, by M. Durieux. Most of these pre-Carolingian designs are barbarous in the extreme, dreadfully clumsy in execution, but they evince considerable ingenuity and a strong predilection for symbolism.

Before concluding this chapter perhaps something should be said concerning the shape of books, though this is a matter somewhat outside the scope of our proper subject. Yet, as the brief digression will afford an opportunity for the explanation of certain terms used in MSS., we will avail ourselves of it.

The ancient form of writing upon skins and papyrus was that of the roll. The Hebrew, Arabic, or Greek terms for this do not concern us, but its Latin name was volumen, "something rolled," and from this we obtain our word volume. Such words as "explicit liber primus" etc., which we often find in early MSS., refer to this roll-form; explicare in Latin meaning to unroll; hence, apropos of a chapter or book, to finish. When transferred to the square form, or codex, it simply means, "here ends book first," etc.

The modern book shape first came into use with the beginning of the Christian era under the name of codex. Here it will be necessary to explain that caudex, codex, in Latin, meant a block of wood, and had its humorous by-senses among the Roman dramatists, as the word block has among ourselves, such as blockhead.[5] So caudicalis provincia was a jocular expression for the occupation of wood-splitting.

[5] Terence, Heautont., 5. 1, 4.

Whether the word had originally any connection with cauda, "a tail," is not here worth considering, as if so, it had long lost the connection; and when used to mean a book, had only the sense of a board, or a number of boards from two upwards, fastened together by means of rings passed through holes made in their edges.

Probably the first use was as plain smooth boards only; examples of such are still in existence. Then of boards thinly covered with, usually, black wax. A pair of such tablets, wax-covered, was a common form of a Roman pocket-or memorandum-book. It was also used as a means of conveying messages, the reply being returned on the same tablets. The method was to write on the wax with a fine-pointed instrument called a style, the reverse end of which was flattened. When the person to whom the message was sent had read it, he (or she) simply flattened out the writing, smoothed it level, and then wrote the reply on the same wax. School-children did their exercises on these tablets, housewives and stewards kept their accounts on them, and on them literary people jotted down their ideas as they do now in their pocket-books. Extant examples of these early books, or tablets, are fairly numerous, and may be seen in most public museums. A codex of two leaves was called a diptych; of three, a triptych, etc. The codex form was used for legal documents, wills, conveyances, and general correspondence. Hence the Roman postman was called a tabellarius, the tablets containing correspondence being tied with a thread or ribbon and sealed. This custom of sending letters on tablets survived for some centuries after Augustan times. Wattenbach gives several interesting instances of their medival use.[6]

[6] Schriftwesen, 48.

Of course when the tablet gave place to the codex of skin or paper, the papyrus was too brittle and fragile for practical utility, and examples, as we have seen, were very rare; but vellum soon became popular. We may mention, in passing, that the papyrus roll gave us a word still in use in diplomatics, the word protocol. The first sheet of a papyrus roll was called the πρωτόκολλον. It usually contained the name of place and date of manufacture of the papyrus, and was stamped or marked with the name of the government officer who had charge of the department.

In the vellum codex, though each leaf might have only one fold, and thus technically be considered as a folio, the actual shape of it was nearly square, hence its name of codex quadratus. When other forms of books, such as octavo, duo-decimo, etc., came into use, it was in consequence of the increased number of foldings. The gatherings, originally quaternions or quires, became different, and those who undertake to examine MSS. with respect to their completeness have to be familiar with the various methods.[7] This kind of knowledge, however, though useful, is by no means essential to the story of illumination.

[7] Wattenbach, Schriftwesen; Madan, Books in Manuscript, etc.



The first miniature painter—The Vatican Vergils—Methods of painting—Origin of Christian art—The Vienna Genesis—The Dioscorides—The Byzantine Revival.

It has been already stated that the earliest recorded miniature painter was a lady named Lala of Cyzicus in the days of Augustus Csar, days when Cyzicus was to Rome what Brussels is to Paris, or Brighton to London. All her work, as far as we know, has perished. It was portraiture on ivory, probably much the same as we see in the miniature portraiture of the present day.

But this was not illumination. The kind of painting employed in the two Vatican Vergils was, however, something approaching it. These two precious volumes contain relics of Pagan art, but it is the very art which was the basis and prototype of so-called Christian art of those earliest examples found in the catacombs and in the first liturgical books of Christian times.

The more ancient of the two Vergils referred to, No. 3225, which Labarte (2nd ed., ii. 158) thinks to be a century older than the other, Sir M.D. Wyatt considered as containing "some of the best and most interesting specimens of ancient painting which have come down to us. The design is free and the colours applied with good effect, the whole presenting classical art in the period of decline, but before its final debasement." Whereas in the second MS., No. 3867, the style, though still classical, is greatly debased, and probably, in addition to this, by no means among the best work of its time. It is described as rough, inaccurate, and harsh. The method is of the kind called gouache, i.e. the colours are applied thickly in successive couches or layers, probably by means of white of egg diluted with fig-tree sap, and finished in the high lights with touches of gold (Palograph. Soc., pl. 114, 117). This finishing with touches of gold brings the work within the range of illumination. There is, indeed, wanting the additional ornamentation of the initial letter which would bring it fully into the class of medival work; but, such as it is, it may fairly claim to be suggestive of the future art. Indeed, certain points in the MS. 3225—viz. that Zeus is always red and Venus fair, that certain costumes and colours of drapery are specially appropriated—would lead to the supposition that even then there existed a code of rules like those of the Byzantine Guide, and that therefore the art owed its origin to the Greeks.

Between this MS. and the first known Christian book work there may have been many that have now perished, and which, had they remained, would have marked the transition more gradually. But even as they stand there is no appreciable difference between the earliest monuments of Christian art and those of the period which preceded them. Nor shall we find any break, any distinct start on new principles. It is one continuous series of processes—the gradual change of methods growing out of experience alone—not owing to any change of religion or the adoption of a new set of theological opinions. Of course we shall find that for a very long time the preponderance of illuminated MSS. will be towards liturgical works; and we shall also find that where the contents of the MS. are the same the subjects taken for illustration are also selected according to some fixed and well-known set of rules. We shall see the explanation of this by-and-by.

The first example of a Christian illuminated MS. is one containing portions of the Book of Genesis in Greek preserved in the Imperial Library at Vienna. It is a mere fragment, only twenty-six leaves of purple vellum—that is, bearing the imperial stain—yet it contains eighty-eight pictures. We call them miniatures, but we must remember that by "miniator" a Roman bookseller would not understand what we call a miniaturist; and, as we have said, the word "illuminator" was not then known.

This Vienna Genesis is not introduced among illuminated books, therefore, because of its miniatures—pictures we prefer to call them—but because the text is nearly all written in gold and silver letters. The pictures, according to the Greek manner, are placed in little square frames. They were executed, no doubt, by a professional painter, not without technical skill and not hampered by monastic restrictions. The symbolism which underlies all early art is here shown in the allegorical figures (such as we shall meet with again in later Byzantine work), which are introduced to interpret the scene. We see the same thing in the catacombs. Being a relic of great importance, this Genesis codex has been often described and examples given of its pictures. Of course, in a little manual like the present we cannot pretend to exhibit the literature of our subject. We can scarcely do more than refer the reader to a single source. In this case perhaps we cannot do better than send the inquirer to the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington.

If we select another MS. of this early period it is the one which may be said to be the oldest existing MS. in which the ornamentation is worthy of as much notice as the pictures. We refer to the Collection of Treatises by Greek physicians on plants, fishing, the chase, and kindred matters in the same library as the Genesis fragment. It goes under the name of "Dioscorides," who was one of the authors, and dates from the beginning of the sixth century. The Genesis is a century older. Engravings from the Dioscorides are given in Labarte's Arts industriels, etc., pl. 78, and in Louandre's Arts somptuaires, etc., i., pl. 2, 3.

Enough has been said on these earlier centuries to show quite clearly the character of the art known as Early Christian. It is simply a continuation of such art as had existed from classical times, and had, in fact, passed from the Greeks, who were artists, to the Romans, who were rarely better than imitators. It is carried on to the period when it again is nourished by Greek ideas in the Later Empire, and once more attains distinction in the splendid revival of art under the Emperor Justinian.

NOTE.—Julius Capitolinus, in his Life of the exquisite Emperor Maximin, junior, mentions that the emperor's mother[8] made him a present of a copy of the poems of Homer, written in golden letters on purple[9] vellum. This is the earliest recorded instance of such a book in Christian times. Its date would be about 235 A.D.

[8] Qudam parens sua.

[9] Purpureos libros.



The rebuilding of the city of Byzantium the beginning of Byzantine art—Justinian's fondness for building and splendour—Description of Paul the Silentiary—Sumptuous garments—The Gospel-book of Hormisdas—Characteristics of Byzantine work—Comparative scarcity of examples—Rigidity of Byzantine rules of art—Periods of Byzantine art—Examples—Monotony and lifelessness of the style.

The signal event which gave birth to medival illumination, or rather to the ideas which were thereby concentrated upon the production of magnificent books, was the rebuilding of the Imperial Palace and the Basilica of Constantine, henceforward to be known as the Church of Sancta Sophia, or the Divine Wisdom, at Byzantium. The Emperor Justinian had been reigning six years when a terrific fire, caused by the conflicts between the various seditions, called Circus factions, of the time, almost entirely destroyed not only his own palace and the great Christian church adjoining it, but the city of Constantinople itself. So important a scheme of reconstruction had probably never been forced upon a government since the great fire in Rome under Nero. Justinian, whose early training had been of the most economical kind, and whose disposition seemed to be rather inclined to parsimony than extravagance, now came out in his true character. For various reasons he had hitherto studiously concealed his master-passion; but this catastrophe of the fire, which seemed at first so disastrous, was really a stroke of fortune. It afforded the hitherto frugal sovereign the chance he had long waited for of spending without stint the hoarded savings of his two miserly predecessors, and gratifying his own tastes for magnificent architecture and splendour of apparel.

Not only Asia, with its wealth of gold and gems, but all the known world capable of supplying material for the reconstructions, were called upon, and ivory, marbles, mosaics, lamps, censers, candelabra, chalices, ciboria, crosses, furniture, fittings, pictures—in short, everything that his own taste and the experience of four or five of the ablest architects of the time could suggest—administered to the gorgeous, the unspeakable splendour of the new edifices and their furniture.

Paul the Silentiary, an eye-witness of the whole proceeding, has left a description in verse, and the accurate Du Fresne in prose, which enable us easily to trace how the Roman city of Constantine became transformed into the semi-oriental Byzantium of Justinian. During the two centuries which had elapsed since the days of the first Christian emperor many foreign luxuries had found their way into the Eastern capital. Byzantine jewellery and Byzantine silks were already famous. The patterns on the latter were not merely floral or geometrical, but four-footed animals, birds, and scenes from outdoor sports formed part of the embellishment, which, therefore, must have taken the place occupied in later times by the tapestries of Arras and Fontainebleau.

Hitherto the Byzantines had imported their silks from Persia. After the rebuilding of the Basilica, Justinian introduced silk-culture into Greece. The garments ridiculed by Asterius, Bishop of Amasia, in the fourth century, were repeated in the sixth century. "When men," says he, "appear in the streets thus dressed, the passers-by look at them as at painted walls. Their clothes are pictures which little children point out to one another. The saintlier sort wear likenesses of Christ, the Marriage of Galilee...and Lazarus raised from the dead."

On the robe of the Empress Theodora—the wife of Justinian, who is shown in one of the mosaics of St. Vitale at Ravenna as presenting rich gifts to that church—there is embroidered work along the border, showing the Adoration of the Magi. Theodora pia was one among the many rles played by that all-accomplished actress; but this seems to have been after her death. Like Lucrezia Borgia, perhaps, she was better than her reputation. With such surroundings liturgical books could not have existed without sharing in the universal luxury of enrichment. And, in point of fact, we still have records of such books. While Justinian reigned in Byzantium it happened that Hormisdas, a native of Frosinone, was Pope of Rome. He was a zealous eradicator of heresy (especially of the Eutychian and Manichan), and in recognition of his services in this direction the Greek Emperor, with his thanks, sent him a great Gospel-book richly decorated, no doubt, with those splendid Eusebian canons and portraits of the Evangelists, the like of which we see in the Byzantine examples still preserved at Paris, in London, and elsewhere. Plates of beaten gold, studded with gems, formed the covers of the Gospel-book of Hormisdas.

Nor was this sumptuous volume the only, or even a rare, example of its kind. We read that the art of book decoration had become a fashionable craze. No expense was spared in the search for costly materials. Colours were imported from India, Persia, and Spain, including vermilion and ultramarine, while the renowned Byzantine gold ink was manufactured from imported Indian gold. Persian calligraphers had taught its use afresh to the Byzantine scribes.

If, as we may believe, the first object of the Roman miniatores was distinctness combined with beauty, we may now believe that the object of the Byzantine scribes was splendour. The progress had been from mere "cheirography" to calligraphy; now it was from calligraphy to chrysography and arguriography.

This employment of gold and silver inks may be looked upon as the first step in the art of illumination as practised in the Middle Ages. And the preliminary to the use of metallic inks was attention to the tint of the vellum. The pioneers in this career of luxury no doubt had observed that very white vellum fatigued the eye. Hence, at first, they tinted or stained it with saffron, on one side at least, sometimes on both. Once begun, the tinting of the vellum extended to other colours. For works of the highest rank the favourite was a fine purple, the imperial colour of the Roman and Greek emperors. For chrysography, or gold-writing, the tint was nearly what we call crimson. For arguriography, or silver-writing, it became the bluish hue we call grape-purple. On the cooled purples vermilion ink was used instead of, or together with, the gold or silver. As the usage began with the Greeks, we may be sure that it came originally from Asia.

The Emperor Nero, once having heard that an Olympic Ode of Pindar in letters of gold was laid up in one of the temples at Athens, desired that certain verses of his own should be similarly written and dedicated on the Altar of Jupiter Capitolinus at Rome. This was an imperial luxury several times repeated by other princes.

After the official establishment of Christianity it became a common practice to have the greater liturgical books executed in the same costly fashion. And between the time of Constantine and that of Basil the Macedonian many a burning homily was directed against the custom, denounced as a sinful extravagance, which no doubt it was, but in vain until the fashion had worn itself out.

It might fairly be expected, this being the case, that many examples of this kind of codex would still be in existence. But owing to war, fire, robbery, and other misfortunes but very few remain. One of the oldest and finest is the so-called Codex Argenteus, or Silver-book, now kept at Upsala, in Sweden, containing portions of the Gospels of the Msogothic Bishop Ulfilas. Originally the effect of the stamped or burnished silver on the rich purple of the vellum must have been very splendid, but now the action of the air has blackened it, as it has done in many other instances where silver was used in illumination. Even gold will gather tarnish, and in several such MSS. has turned of a rusty red. Gold ink was not invariably confined to tinted vellum; it was often used on the plain ground. The copy of the Old Testament in Greek, presented by the high priest Eleazar to King Ptolemy Philadelphus, was a roll of fine white vellum, upon which the text was written in letters of gold.

To enter upon the antiquities of Greek palography would lead us too far from our track in view of the brevity of our present survey. We therefore with some reluctance turn from this interesting topic to our more immediate subject. We may remark, however, that the great majority of Greek MSS. are written on vellum. In the eleventh century are found instances of what is called charta bombycina, or cotton-paper, appearing more plentifully in the twelfth century, but on the whole vellum is the chief material of Byzantine illuminated books. Much has been said about the want of life and total lack of variety of treatment in this school of art. To a very great extent the charge is just, yet it could scarcely be otherwise. The one circumstance which compelled Byzantine work to remain so long as if cast in one unalterable mould, and thus to differ so strangely from that of Western artists, was due to the fact that in very early Christian times the scribes and illuminators were enrolled into a minutely organised corporation originating primarily in monasticism, but by no means confined to the monastic Orders. Lay guilds existed, the regulations and methods of which were rigid beyond modern belief. So that, as a class, Byzantine art has acquired the reputation of a soulless adherence to mechanical rules and precedents, depriving it of originality and even of individuality, and therefore excluding the remotest scintilla of artistic genius. Of the great crowd of examples of ordinary work this may be true, but it certainly is not true of the best, by which it has the right to be judged, as we shall see from the examples referred to by-and-by. Certainly there is one invaluable particular in which Greek MSS. are superior to those of the West, Latin or otherwise. That is, they are much more frequently signed with the names, localities, and dates of the copyists and illuminators.

It will be some help towards our knowledge of this school if we divide its existence into chronological sections or periods.

1. From pr-Christianity to the Age of Justinian, i.e. down to the year 535. (Justinian reigned from 526 to 564.)

This period marks the decadence of ancient art, but carries with it the characteristics and methods of the ancient Greek painters.

2. From the Age of Justinian to the Iconoclastic paralysis of art under Leo III. the Isaurian, i.e. 564 to 726. (Leo reigned from 717 to 741.)

During this period vast numbers of illuminated liturgical books were destroyed for religious or fanatical reasons, just as in our own Cromwellian times numbers of Hor, Missals, etc., were destroyed as papistical and superstitious.

This Edict of 726 did not absolutely put an end to all art in MSS. It only had the effect of excluding images of God, Christ, and the saints, as in Arabian and Persian MSS., leaving the artist the free use of flowers, plants, and line ornament, after the manner of the Mohammedan arabesques.

3. From Leo III. to the Empress Irene, who restored the worship of images in part, i.e. from 741 to 785. (Irene ruled from 780 to 801.)

This was a period of stagnation, though by no means of extinction of art.

4. From Irene to Basil I. the Macedonian, i.e. from 801 to 867.

A half-century and more of rapid renaissance to the most brilliant epoch of Byzantine art since the time of Justinian, if not the zenith of the school.

Basil I. was a great builder—building, in fact, was his ruling passion—so that it may be said that he took Justinian for his model both as a ruler and as a patron of the arts. (He reigned from 867 to 886.)

5. From Basil the Macedonian to the Fall of Constantinople, i.e. from 886 to 1453.

Allowing for a few flashes of expiring skill in various reigns, this may be considered as a period of gradual but certain decline to a state worse than death, for though the monks of Greek and Russian convents still kept up the execution of MSS., it was only with the driest and most lifeless adhesion to the Manual. This so-called art still exists, but more like a magnetised corpse than a living thing.

Examples of the first period are seldom met with. We have one signal specimen in the British Museum Add. MS. 5111, being two leaves only of a Gospel-book, and containing part of the Eusebian canons, or contents-tables of the Four Gospels, etc. The work is attributed to the time of Justinian himself. It is of the kind already referred to as probably affording the model of work to the early illuminators of France and Ireland, and as being like the Gospel-book of Hormisdas and those brought to England by Augustine in 596. Another example of the same Eusebian canons is found in Roy. MS. 1 E. vi.

Of the fourth period—i.e. the ninth century—perhaps the most typical example is the Menologium (a sort of compound of a calendar and lives of the saints), now in the Vatican Library (MS. Gr. 1613). This MS. shows that the revival under Basil the Macedonian was a return not to Roman, but to ancient Greek art, the facial types being of the purest classical character.

In some of them we see the horizontal frown of the Homeric heroes (σύνοφρυς Οδυσσευς), and of the Georgian and Armenian races shown in the features of the Emperor Johannes Ducas. We have, too, the large Hera- like eye with its mystic gaze, which, in later Byzantine work, becomes first a gaze of lofty indifference, as in the portraits of the emperors and empresses, and lastly a stony and expressionless stare; still, if possible, more stony and glaring when transferred to Celtic and Carolingian Gospel-books. (See chapter on Carolingian Illumination.)

Of this fourth period we might indeed point to many examples. One must suffice. It is the beautiful Greek Psalter, now at Paris (MS., p. 139), containing lovely examples of antique design, including remarkable personifications or allegorical figures. In this MS. is one of the most graceful personifications ever painted, that of Night, with her veil of gauze studded with stars floating overhead. The seven pictures from the Life of David are among the best ever put into a MS. But personification is carried to an extreme. Thus the Red Sea, the Jordan, Rivers, Mountains, Night, Dawn, etc., are all represented as persons. The drawings are really beautiful and the illuminated initials and general ornament in good taste.

For other examples the reader may consult the British Museum Cat. of Addit. MSS., 1841-5, p. 87; also Du Sommerard, Les Arts au Moyen-ge, tom. v., 1846, pp. 107, 162-8, and album, 2e sr. pl. xxix., 8e sr. pl. xii.-xvi.

It is noticeable in these Byzantine pictures that while the figure-painting is often really excellent, the design skilful, and the pose natural, the landscape, trees, etc., are quite symbolic and fanciful. The painters seem to have been utterly ignorant of perspective. Buildings, too, without any regard to relative proportion, are coloured merely as parts of a colour scheme. They are pink, pale green, yellow, violet, blue, just to please the eye. That the painter had a system of colour-harmony is plain, but he paid no regard to the facts of city life, unless, indeed, it was the practice of the medival Byzantines to paint the outside of their houses in this truly brilliant style. Possibly they did so; we have similar things in Italy even nowadays.

No doubt the French illuminators of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries drew from these sources both their perspective and their architectural colouring. As for ornamental illumination, the principal method of decoration was a square heading,[10] perhaps including a semicircular arch sweeping over several arcades, the corners and wall-space being occupied either with arabesque patterns, showing them to be after the time of Leo III., or with scrolls of line-ornament enriched with acanthus foliages. Under this the scribe has placed his title.

[10] It has been thought to represent the Greek π, and to mean πύλη, a gate or door.

Other examples have a square frame filled with the latter kind of scrolls and foliages, leaving a sort of open panel in the centre, in which is placed a small scene of sacred history or perhaps of country life. Sometimes the title, in golden letters, is surrounded with medallions containing heads of Christ and the Virgin, apostles, and saints. The peculiar interlacing bands of violet, yellow, rose, blue, etc., which are still often seen in Russian ornament, are also features of these Byzantine MSS.; but most of all is the lavish use of gold. Perhaps the fact most to be remembered about these MSS. is that the painters of them worked in a manner that was absolutely fixed and rigid, the rules of which are laid down in a manual called the Guide to Painting, a work which has been translated by M. Didron.

So fixed and unalterable, indeed, is the manner that there is absolutely no difference to indicate relative antiquity between a MS. of the eleventh century and one of the sixteenth or even later, we might almost say, of the present day. In the matter of saint-images this is strictly true.



Early liturgical books reflect the ecclesiastical art of their time—This feature a continuous characteristic of illumination down to the latest times—Elements of Celtic ornament—Gospels of St. Chad—Durham Gospels—Contrast of Celtic and Byzantine—St. Columba—Book of Kells—Details of its decoration.

In the earlier centuries of Christianity, when liturgical books were the chief occupation of the illuminator, it will need little pointing out to demonstrate that the page of the illuminated manuscript, where it contained more than the mere ornamental initial, was simply a mirror of the architectural decoration of the church in which it was intended to be used. Where the church enrichments consist, as on the Byzantine basilicas, of panellings, arcades, and tympana of gilded sculpture in wood or stone, with figures of saints, the pages of the Gospel-book bear similar designs. Where, as in the Romanesque, they are rich in mosaics, and fretted arcades interlacing each other, so are the illuminated Lives of the Saints, the Menologia, Psalters, and Gospel-books. Where, as in the Gothic cathedrals of the West—of France, Germany, or Italy—the stained glass is the striking feature of the interior, so it is with the illumination; it is a "vitrail"—a glass-painting on vellum. On this latter point we shall have more to say when we reach the period of Gothic illumination.

Incidentally, also, the book reflects the minor arts in vogue at the period of its execution. Often in the illumination we may detect these popular local industries. We see mosaic enamelling, wood-and stone-carving, and lacquer-work, and as we approach the Renaissance, even gem-cutting and the delicate craft of the medallist. In Venice and the Netherlands we have the local taste for flower-culture; in Germany we find sculpture in wood and stone; in France the productions of the enameller and the goldsmith; until at length, in the full blaze of the Renaissance itself, we have in almost every land the same varieties of enrichment practised according to its own special style of work.

It has been said that the oldest Celtic illuminated MSS. show no signs of classic, or even Byzantine, influence, yet the plan or framework of the designs makes use both of the cross and the arch, as used in the earliest Byzantine examples. The details, indeed, are quite different, and manifestly derived from indigenous sources. It may be, therefore, that the framework is merely a geometrical coincidence which could not well be avoided. The fact that the basis of pure Irish ornament is geometrical, and developed out of the prehistoric and barbarous art of the savages who preceded the Celts in Ireland; such art as is used on the carved shafts of spears, and oars, and staves of honour, and afterwards on stone crosses and metal-work, may account for the similarity of ideas in ornament developed by old Roman decorators in their mosaic pavements, and may reconcile, in some measure, the varied opinions of different writers who have approached the subject from different points of view. Westwood adhered to the theory of its being purely indigenous. Fleury, on the other hand, in his Catalogue of the MSS. in the Library at Laon, asserts that we owe the knots and interlacements to the influence of the painters, sculptors, and mosaicists of Rome. "These interlacings, cables, etc., there is no Gallo-Roman monument which does not exhibit them, and, only to cite local instances, the cord of four or five strands is seen in the beautiful mosaics discovered in profusion within the last five years (1857-62) at Blanzy, at Bazoches, at Vailly, and at Reims. It was from them that the Franks borrowed their knots and twists and ribbons for their belts and buckles, their rings and bracelets" (pt. i., p. 8).

The elements, therefore, of book ornament, as used by the Celtic penmen, are such as were employed by the prehistoric and sporadic nations in the textile art in plaiting and handweaving, and afterwards transferred to that of metal-work. Terminals of animal, bird, or serpent form afterwards combine with the linear designs. The dog and dragon are common, as may be seen in the archaic vases produced by the Greeks before they came under the influence of ideas from Western Asia.

Among Celtic artists, as among those of later times, the practice of working in various materials was common to the same individual, and Dagus (d. 586) may compare with Dunstan, Eloy, Tuotilo, and others.

To apply these observations to the style of illumination which now comes under our notice it may be said that if we allow the cross and arch to be copied from the Byzantine MSS. introduced from abroad, the details are undoubtedly supplied by the wickerwork and textile netting familiar to the everyday life of the artist. Assisted by the fertile imagination of bardic lore in snakes, dragons, and other mythic monsters of heroic verse, the illuminator produces a pencilled tapestry of textile fabric or flexile metal-work as marvellous as it is unique. No amount of description can give a true idea of what Celtic work is like; it must be seen to be comprehended. One glance at a facsimile of such a MS. as the Book of Kells or the Lindisfarne Gospels, or those of St. Chad at Lichfield, or wherever, as at St. Gall, such work is to be met with, will supersede the most laboured attempt at description. We must therefore at once refer the reader to the facsimile. When that has been inspected, we may proceed. In the first place it may be noted that with these Occidental MSS. begins the importance and development of the initial, which, indeed, as regards the illumination of Western Europe, is the very root of the matter. It is the development of the initial letter first into the bracket, then into the border, which forms the great distinction of the "Art of Paris," as Dante calls it, from that of Byzantium. The latter is almost always of a squared or tabular design, traced and painted on a ground of burnished gold. The former exhausts itself first in fantastic lacertine forms, twisted into the shapes of the commencing letters or words of the writing, to which the suggestion of some Byzantine MS, perhaps occasionally adds a frame. Next come birds, dogs, dragons, vine-stems, and spirals embedded in couches of colour; but, whatever its character, always it is the letter that governs and originates the ornament. Only at the very end of its life, when the border has completely eclipsed the initial, is the idea of origin forgotten. Then, indeed, we find the border treillages of flower-stem or leaf-work starting from meaningless points of the design, or scattered shapelessly at random.

When we meet with work of this sort, we need no further proof that the real art is dead. We have before us in such a performance—a trade production—a mere object of commerce, valuable so far as it is the result of labour, but not as a work of art.

According to the Abb Geoghegan,[11] Christianity was known to the people of Ireland in the fourth century. The Greek Menology asserts that it was carried thither by Simon Zelotes, but this is contradicted by the Roman Breviary and the Martyrologists. Simeon Metaphrastes attributes it to St. Peter, Vincent of Beauvais to St. James. Unreliable as these traditions may be taken singly, they nevertheless agree in placing the conversion of Ireland at a very early date, probably, as Geoghegan says, in the fourth century. It is certain that about the middle of the sixth century an Irish prince of distinguished ancestry, and himself a saint, led a band of missionaries from Donegal to Iona. It is curious to observe that the event is almost contemporary with the renovations of Justinian at Byzantium, and only a short time before the founding of the famous Abbey of Monte Cassino by St. Benedict. Before the existence of the Benedictine Order there was a monastery at Durrow, in Ireland, and in this monastery the aforesaid prince was educated. His name was Columba. At least, so he is called, but whether it be merely in allusion to his mission—"the Dove"—or really a patronymic, it is hard to say. He was the messenger of peace to the natives of Iona, and even the name of the island seems to suggest an allusion to the Old Testament missionary to the Ninevites, Jonah. The Irish missionaries called the spot to which they went I. columcille, "the cell of the Dove's isle," or Columba's cell. It is usually spoken of as the Monastery of Iona. Columba went on many other missions, but ultimately returned to his beloved Iona, where he died in 597, the year after the arrival of Augustine at Canterbury.

[11] Hist. de l'Irlande.

His companions busied themselves with the transcription of the Gospels for the use of new converts, after the model of those they had seen and used at Durrow. It is even traditionally asserted that Columba himself took part in the work, and transcribed both a Psalter and a Gospel-book, moreover, that one of the Iona Gospel-books written by him is still in existence. This MS., whether the work of St. Columba or not, and probably it is not, is the earliest known monument of Irish calligraphic art. It is known as the Book of Kells, and there is no doubt that it is the most amazing specimen of penmanship ever seen. It is at once the most ancient, the most perfect, and the most precious example of Celtic art in existence. It exhibits the striking peculiarities and features of the style—the band work knots and interlacings, such as may be seen on the stone crosses which mark the burial-places of British and Irish chieftains. Witness, for instance, the Carew, or the Nevern Cross, described in the Journal of the Archoelogical Institute, iii. 71, which might be taken to represent an initial "I" wrought in stone. There is no foliage, no plant form at all. It is not, therefore, derivable from Romanesque, Byzantine, or Oriental ornament. It is indigenous, if not to Ireland, at least to those prehistoric Aryan tribes of which the Irish were a branch. Its basis is the art of weaving, and in some respects resembles the matting of Polynesia much more closely that the vine-stems of Sicily or the arabesques of Byzantium. Spirals occur that bewilder the eye, yet are so faultlessly perfect that only the magnifying-glass brings out the incredible accuracy of the drawing. Among them are mythological and allegorical beasts, snakes, and lizards—thought to represent demons, like the gargoyles of Gothic architecture—in every conceivable attitude of contortion and agony. There are also doves and fishes, but the latter, being sacred emblems together with the lamb, are seldom made grotesque. It was a monkish legend that the devil could take the shape of any bird or beast, except those of the dove and the lamb.



The Iona Gospels—Contrast with Roman and Byzantine—Details—Treatment of animal forms—Colour schemes—The Gospel-book of St. Columbanus—That of Mael Brith Mac Durnan—The Lindisfarne Gospels—Cumdachs—Other book-shrines.

We have seen that in both Roman and Byzantine MSS. the titles and beginnings of books were merely distinguished by a lettering in red or gold, rather smaller, in fact, than the ordinary text, but rendered distinct by the means referred to. The handwriting, too, is clear and legible, whether capital, uncial, or minuscule.

In absolute contrast to all this the Iona Gospels have the first page completely covered with ornament. On the next the letters are of an enormous size, followed by a few words, not merely in uncials, but in characters varying from half an inch to two inches in height. The page opposite to each Gospel is similarly filled with decoration, separated into four compartments by an ornamented Greek cross. This may, of course, be simply a geometrical device in no way connected with Greece, but, taken in connection with other features, we see in it an indication of contact with Byzantine work and the side of illumination which deals rather with the tabular enrichment of the page than the development of the initial. Further, the writing, though large, is not easily legible, for it is involved, enclaved, and conjointed in a manner sufficiently puzzling to those who see it for the first time.

The plaiting and inlaying are certainly borrowed from local usages, and the survival of the same kind of interlaced plaiting in the Scottish tartans is some evidence of the long familiarity of the Celtic race with the art of weaving. When we remember that some of the early illuminators were also workers in metals, we can understand that penmen like Dagus, Dunstan, and Eloy had designs at their command producible by either method. So we see, both in the MS. and in the brooch and buckle, the same kind of design. Among the earliest animals brought into this Celtic work we find the dog and the dragon; the latter both wingless and winged, according to convenience or requirement. The dog is so common in some of the Celto-Lombardic MS., of which examples still exist at Monte Cassino, as almost to create a style; while the dragon survives to the latest period of Gothic art.

Whatever is introduced into a Celtic illumination is at once treated as a matter of ornament. When the human figure appears it is remorselessly subjected to the same rules as the rest of the work; the hair and beard are spiral coils, the eyes, nostrils, and limbs are symmetrical flourishes. Colour is quite regardless of natural possibility. The hair and draperies are simply patterned as compartments of green or blue, or red or black, as may be required for the tout ensemble; the face remains white. Lightened tints are preferred to full colours, as pale yellow, pink, lavender, and light green. A very ludicrous device is made use of to denote the folds of the drapery; they are not darkened, there is no light and shade in Celtic work, but are simply lines of a strongly contrasting colour. The blue and red appear to be opaque, and therefore mineral colours; the rest are thin and transparent. Nothing can be more wayward than the colouring of the symbolic beasts of the Gospels. In the Evangeliary of St. Columbanus (not Columba, but the founder of Luxeuil and Bobbio, who died in 614) the Lion of St. Mark is an admirable beast in a suit of green-and-red chain armour in the form of mascles or lozenges. (See the illustration in Westwood's Palographia Sacra Pictoria of a figure page from the Gospels of Mael Brith Mac Durnan for a typical example.)[12]

[12] See also an article by Westwood in Journal Archol. Inst., vii. 17, on "Irish Miniatures."

The only point that might argue the freedom in Celtic work from Byzantine influence is the absence of gold, but perhaps this was only because the earlier Irish illuminators could not obtain it; we find it later on. In the Book of Kells and the Lambeth Gospels there is no gold. The former dates somewhere in the seventh century, not the sixth, as sometimes stated; the latter, shortly before 927. In the Lindisfarne Gospels (698-721) gold is used. In the Psalter of Ricemarchus, now in Trinity College, Dublin, are traces of silver. It is in connection with these Irish MSS. that decorated and jewelled cases, called cumdachs, make their appearance, such as the one attached to the Gospels of St. Moling in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. These book-shrines are almost exclusively an Irish production. In other countries the idea was to adorn the volume itself with a splendid and costly binding, perhaps including gold, silver, and gems. In Ireland the idea of sacredness was carried out in another way. Instead of decorating the covers of the book itself, it was held, as in such a MS., for instance, as the Book of Durrow, to be too venerable a relic to be meddled with, and a box or case was made for it, on which they spent all their artistic skill. Generally the case is known as a cumdach; but one kind, called the cathach, was so closed that the book was completely concealed, and it was superstitiously believed that if it were opened some terrible calamity would overtake its possessors. Such was the cathach of Tyrconnell. We must remember, however, that in this instance the keepers were not men of book-learning, but hardy warriors who carried the cathach into battle as a charm and an incitement to victory.

Of similar shrines, which were made for precious books by both the Greeks and Lombards, the oldest and most famous is that made for Theudelinde, wife of Agilulf, King of the Lombards, and given by her, in 616, together with the famous iron crown and other relics, to the Cathedral of Monza, where they are still to be seen.

The enrichment of the covers of books themselves, as distinct from the use of cases or shrines, has been usual in almost all ages and styles of decoration. When we come to speak of Carolingian MSS. we shall find several remarkable instances.

We must now pass on from this curiously attractive theme of Celtic calligraphy to its contemporary styles of France, Germany, Spain, and Italy, only remarking by the way that no other style of its time had so marked an influence on the local scriptoria into which it was introduced as this same Celtic of Ireland. It is not only traceable, but easily recognised all along the Rhine, in Burgundy, the Swiss Cantons, and Lombardy, until at length overwhelmed by the general introduction of Romanesque or Byzantine, which was restored and filtered through the Exarchate and the Lombard schools during the early days of the new Carolingian Empire.



Visigothic—Merovingian—Lombardic—Extinction of classic art—Splendid reign of Dagobert—St. Eloy of Noyon—The Library of Laon—Natural History of Isidore of Seville—Elements of contemporary art—Details of ornament—Symbolism—Luxeuil and Monte Cassino—Sacramentary of Gellone—"Prudentius"—"Orosius"—Value of the Sacramentary of Gellone.

To reach the beginning's of these various degenerate and illiterate attempts at book-work we have only to watch the last expiring gleams of classic art beneath the ruthless footsteps of the barbarian invaders of the old Roman Empire.

In the sixth century the light of the old civilisation was fast fading away. Perhaps we may look upon the so-called splendour of the reign of Dagobert in France as the spasmodic scintillations of its latest moments of existence. The kingdom of Dagobert, after 631, was almost an empire. For the seven years preceding his death, in 638, he ruled from the Elbe and the Saxon frontier to that of Spain, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the confines of Hungary. It was during his reign that we read of the skill in metal-work of the celebrated St. Eloy of Noyon, the rival of our own St. Dunstan.

St. Eloy or Eligius (588-659) began his artistic career as the pupil of Abbo, the goldsmith and mint-master to Chlothaire II., and rose from the rank of a goldsmith to that of Bishop of Noyon. Among his handiwork were crowns, chalices, and crosiers, and he is reputed to have made the chair of bronze-gilt now in the National Library at Paris, called the fauteuil of Dagobert, and many other works, which disappeared either during the wars of Louis XV. or those of the Revolution of 1789. He founded the Abbey of Solignac, near Limoges, and it is not improbable that the reputation of this city for metal-work and enamelling may be dated from his foundation. With such works as those of Eloy before them, it is difficult to believe that the wretched and puerile attempts at ornamental penmanship and illumination which are shown at Laon and other places as the work of this period can possibly represent the highest efforts of the calligrapher. But we must remember that St. Eloy was an extraordinary genius in his art, and that the bulk of the clergy, not to mention ordinary workmen, were very ignorant and ill-taught. Very few, indeed, were men who could be considered cultured. Gregory of Tours, the historian, and Venantius Fortunatus, the hymn-writer, are among the few.

In the Library at Laon, M. Fleury describes a MS. of the Natural History of Isidore of Seville, which is looked upon as a work of reference both as regards art and learning. It was at one time a very popular book, being a Latin cyclopdia, dealing with the sciences and general knowledge of the time; yet the example referred to by M. Fleury shows us only a crowd of initials learnedly styled by the Benedictine authors and others "ichthio-morphiques" and "ornithoeides," i.e. made up of fishes and birds, and about equal in quality and finish to the efforts of a very ordinary schoolboy.

These initials betray an utter decadence from the beautiful uncials of the fifth and sixth centuries, seen in the St. Germain's Psalter, for example, now in the National Library at Paris. The colours are coarse and badly applied, and even where brightest are utterly unrefined and without taste.

Notwithstanding, however, the apparently total eclipse or extinction of Roman art in Gaul, or, as it must henceforth be called, France, it is claimed by M. Fleury[13] that the interlacements which constitute the principal feature of these earlier Merovingian MSS. are derived from the remains of Roman mosaics found profusely at Blanzy, Bazoches, and Reims. This may be so, but those mosaics would not account for the same features in the Irish work, for the Romans never reached Ireland as occupants or colonists.

[13] See later.

Take another example from the Laon collection, the History of Orosius. The first page is a type of the species to which it belongs, and, moreover, a good sample of the earliest efforts of all pictorial art. An ordinary rectangular cross occupies the centre of the page. The centre shows us the Lamb of the Apocalypse and St. John. On the arms are the beasts which typify the Evangelists—their emblems, as they are sometimes called. We notice that they are all symbolic, and not intended to be natural imitations of reality. The various animals scattered about the page are all symbolic—all have a mystical interpretation and raison d'tre. A border-frame, passing behind each extremity of the cross, contains a number of dog-like animals, some plain, others spotted, while the body of the cross itself is occupied with attempts at foliage ornaments. In the left upper corner are the letters "X P I," in the right "I H V," thick foliage springing from the "I" and "V" and falling back over the monogram. In the lower corners are two fishes and two doves, each pair hanging to a penwork chain.

The emblem of John, on the upper extremity of the cross, is an eagle-headed and winged man holding a book; its opposite one of Lucas at foot is a singularly conceived anthropoid and winged ox, also with a book. On the left Marcus, whose head is indescribable; and on the right Matthew, with human head, the rest of the figures being as before. The eye in all the figures is a most remarkable feature. Both in the pictures and the initials of this MS. the outline has been drawn in black ink, and the colours yellow, red, brown, and green applied afterwards.

As the new masters of the West were not so much interested in the artistic remains of the mangled civilisation they were endeavouring to destroy as in mastery and military success, it was left for the monasteries and the church to see to the welfare of books and monuments.

In the seventh century it was the monasteries that saved almost all we know of the preceding centuries. During the turmoil of the period from the fifth to the eighth century we find certain quiet corners where learning and the arts still breathed, grew, and dwelt in security. Lrins, founded by St. Honoratus of Aries; Luxeuil by Columbanus, Bobbio his last retreat; and, above all, Monte Cassino, the great pattern of monasticism, the Rule of whose founder was destined to become the basis of all later Orders, were each of them steadily labouring to rescue the civilisation daily threatened by the ravage of war, and to preserve it for the benefit of the ignorant hordes who, because of their ignorance, now only aimed at its entire destruction. We have seen how these monks and clerics, with more goodwill than ability, did their best to adorn the books which came into their hands. It is a poor show, but there is no better. It is absolutely our only record of how civilisation managed to struggle through the storm.

Let us, then, be thankful even for the Laon "Orosius," for the Sacramentary of Gellone, and the Mozarabic Liturgies of Puy. They are among the links between ancient and medival art.

As already stated, the handwriting of Merovingian MSS. is mainly an adaptation of the Roman uncial, as it is in Irish and Lombardic, or, we might say, everywhere else. Abbreviations we still uncommon. Where minuscules are used, the writing is not quite so legible as in the larger hands, but we are not met by the singular difficulties of some of the Lombardic texts.

A few solitary texts of the earliest time are in capitals, such as the really handsome "Prudentius" of the Paris National Library, where the entire text of the great Christian poet is boldly inscribed in the centre of a large white page of vellum, like a series of separate inscriptions. The first few words are "rubrished" in the antique manner. The MS. is supposed to date previous to the year 527. A little later than this St. Columbanus founded the monastery of Luxeuil, and later still, viz. in 616, that of Bobbio.

If we turn to the Visigothic area, including the South of France and the entire peninsula of Spain, our first and typical example is the celebrated Sacramentary of Gellone. This MS. dates, it is said, from the eighth century. It is written throughout in Visigothic uncials, though executed in the South of France. Its ornamentation is frankly barbaric. The colours used are yellow, red, and green. The great initials are double lined, and the interlinear space filled in with a flat tint of colour and lines of red dots, as in the Book of Kells occasionally follow the contours. Here, also, are the fish or bird-form letters as in the Laon "Orosius." Now and then occurs a tiny scene—perhaps a fight between two grotesque brutes, neither fish, nor fowl, nor beast known to the naturalist, but a horrible compound of the worst qualities of each. The human figure, when it occurs, is childishly shapeless. But the design and treatment, nevertheless, bear witness to a lively imagination and considerable knowledge of Christian symbolism. It is these mental qualities which, in spite of the manifest absence of manual skill, render the Gellone Evangeliary one of the most precious monuments of its time. Of the rest of the MSS. of this wretched period we will say nothing.

"Non ragioniam di lor', ma guard' e passa."

We are glad to hurry on for another century or so, remembering that the leading idea now is the development of the initial letter.



The initial and initial paragraph the main object of decoration in Celtic illumination—Study of the letter L as an example—The I of "In principio" and the B of "Beatus Vir."

From the moment when the initial was placed beneath the miniature the object of the whole design was not to give prominence to the initial but to the picture. Until then, that is, whilst the initial remains above or beside or outside the picture, it is the initial we must watch for style and development. And therefore we seize on one letter among those of the latter part of the eighth century, because of the frequency of its occurrence in the Gospel-book or Evangeliary, one of the commonest books of the time. This the letter L of "Liber Generationis," etc., the commencing words of St. Matthew. This passage is always made of importance, and on the initial and arrangement of the words the artist expends his best efforts.

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