Valentina Cantone
(University of Padova, Italy)


The problem of the eastern influences on Byzantine Art during the Macedonian Renaissance: some illuminated manuscripts from the National Library of Greece and the National Library of Venice

This contribution1 is a preliminary report on a four-years long research in the National Library of Venice. The study has been conduced under the supervision of Professor Italo Furlan, the author of the well known six-volume publication on the illuminated Greek manuscripts of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (1978-1997). The purpose of this research is to study the ornamentation of a group of Byzantine manuscripts from Constantinople datable to a period between the end of the 9th and the first quarter of the 11th century, known as codices in Laubsäge-Ornamentik2. These manuscripts are decorated with Π and band-shaped headpieces enriched by a repertory of elements of classical origin: foliate rinceaux with trefoils or half-leaves, acanthus scrolls, foliate stems forming upright or inverted heart-shaped figures containing blue or gilded palmettes on the white ground of the parchment. The similar ornamentation can be found on fragments of Middle Byzantine painted stuccoes in the churches of Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki and Glyki3, as well as on the architectural ceramics that covered surfaces of the churches4. The decorations of the Canons Tables in the manuscript cod. 56 of Athens can give a clear idea of the richness of the painted patterns displayed on columns and pilasters5. During the 9th and 10th century the same repertory is documented in the glass objects made in Syria6, under strong influence of the luxury arts produced for the Byzantine court. The influence of the Constantinopolitan art on the Eastern culture is well attested by the translation of Greek manuscripts into Arabic, under the patronage of the Abbasid Caliphs of Baghdad, impressed by the number of books preserved and by the profusion of gold that permeated all the aspects of the life in the Great Palace7. The Marcianus Graecus II, 48 is one of such manuscripts, an example of a prestigious codex adorned with gilded ornaments imitated by the Islamic craftsmen. The codex contains the collection of the Homilies on the Book of Genesis of John Chrysostom on 284 sheets of large dimensions. The decorative repertory of the manuscript amounts to 32 Π-shaped headpieces and a rectangular one (241v), all drawn in red and colored with gold. As I have proposed elsewhere9, the decorative repertory of the manuscript is datable to the second half of the 10th century, certainly before the end of reign of the emperor Basil II (976-1025). Such dating has been confirmed by the paleographic analysis and corroborated by the opinion of Santo Lucà10 and Paul Canart11 who have proposed an aristocratic patronage of Constantinopolitan origin. The headpieces employ the well attested motifs of classical origin, but on folios 153v and 207v (fig. 1-2), they differ from the others, showing a foliate repertory of half-leaves that imitate the so-called floriated cufic, diffused in 9th and 10th century Islamic lands12. Thus, these ornaments attest to the Byzantine approach to Islamic models. Their geometrical forms seem to translate the memory on the Arabic writings into modular units characterized by strong perpendicular lines with foliate ends.

From their first employment in Byzantine Art, pseudo-cufic ornaments13 take a variety of forms, resulting not only from the diverse media in which they appear, but also from the absence of interest in reproducing precise models. In fact, the two headpieces illustrate the modus operandi of Byzantine copyists, who introduced exotic imagery into manuscript’s ornamentation. In the absence of any literary sources or documents which indicate that Byzantine craftsmen have indeed studied and reproduced the objects of Islamic art it is not possible to make any general statements on how the influence of Islamic art was transmitted. Instead, I will focus on analysis and assessment of contributions of some scribes who experimented with new decorative solutions. Naturally, it is not always possible to reconstruct the artistic career of each miniaturist, but when considering the influence of Islamic art, we have to account for the artistic creativity of the artists who transmitted it.

A good example of the complexity of this issue is the manuscript cod. 59 from the National Library of Greece14. This lectionary comprises 272 folios written in ogivale diritta15. The majuscule liturgical script with fine initials and headpieces in blue and gold suggest a Constantinopolitan origin around the second half of the 10th century or the early 11th 16.

The decorative style of the initials makes this codex akin to a group of classicizing manuscripts from the capital of the Byzantine empire, of which good examples are the codex Marcianus Graecus I, 1817, the Vaticanus Graecus 115718 and the codex 512 of the Vatican Library, work of the copyist who wrote the manuscript II, 4 of Venice. Nevertheless, in the manuscript in Athens, the headpieces are of transitional type. Their forms are a hybrid solution between the Π-shaped headpieces and the tapestry model covered by rows of circles within flowers in blue, green and red colors, appeared first in the 10th century 19.

The combination of different elements is confirmed by two frames at the bottom of the pages with the months of November and May, which display two kinds of pseudo-cufic ornaments. The first, on folio 229r (fig. 3), shows a pattern composed of five almost identical units. Only the first and the fifth unit of the system differ from the others. The first, because it is smaller, the fifth, because it is built in a different way, with the left element closed on itself. The presence of two little rosettes and a cross in the middle of the units and the two little apexes on the top between the first and the second element seem to translate graphic characteristic of the cufic script, as in the mosaics patterns of the Great Mosque of Cordoba, realized by Byzantine craftsmen between 970 and 971. The other frame, in folio 256r (fig. 4), is really unusual. As in the case of the previous frame, the forms of the ornament are gradually diminishing towards the left border of the column and it is possible to recognize a modular design of the band. It seems, however, that here the copyist attempted to reproduce decorations quite near to the original Arabic calligraphy, translating the script into sinuous lines. The gauche result is a gilded scribble filled in blue.

In 10th century Byzantine Art pseudo-cufic ornaments are used to decorate monuments like the Panagia of Hosios Loukas20 and the church of the Holy Apostles in the archaeological area of the Ancient Agora in Athens. These monuments attest to the success of such variety of motifs in the Byzantine provinces, where the aristocratic officials were interested in imitating the luxury arts of Constantinople, as illustrated by the bracelet in gilded silver and niello in the Benaki Museum at Athens21. Pseudo-cufic ornaments were also used on architectural ceramics22, bowls, vessels and mural paintings, as documented by the well known bowl of the Treasure of Saint Marc in Venice23 and by the helmet of Joshua, in the fresco on the external wall of the exonarthex of the Panagia’s church of Hosios Loukas. It also seems likely that, as in the 11th-century paintings of the Karanlık Kilise and of the Elmalı Kilise of Göreme, executed under a strong influence of Constantinopolitan art, in the Byzantine court pseudo-cufic ornaments were used to decorate socks. Patrons and craftsmen alike were impressed by the gifts sent by the Arab courts to the Byzantine emperors24. The admiration for eastern art was also inspired by the merchandise brought to Constantinople and by luxury items taken back to the city as war spoils. The uninterrupted interest of the Byzantine court in Islamic culture and fascination with Islamic ornament is documented from the time when the first mosque of Constantinople was built25. The emperor Theophilus (813-842) imitated the decoration of Islamic palaces26. This attitude continued during the Macedonian27 and Comnenian rule 28,
with frequent embassies and exchange of gifts29. During this period, some Arab prisoners made a lucky career in the Great Palace or in the imperial administration30. Under the Palaeologan dynasty31, the Sultan of Cairo sent gilded candlesticks, embroidered curtains, censors, carpets and spices to the mosque that Michael VIII had built in Constantinople.

Another example of transformation of the Islamic influence through the creativity of Byzantine masters can be found in the manuscript cod. 91 of the National Library of Greece32. The codex, comprising 327 folios, contains the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles and the Apocalypse of John. It can be dated to the end of the 10th century. The multicolor ornaments which adorn the codex are consistent with those found in other 10th-century manuscripts33, but the way in which the patterns are displayed sets it apart from the Laubsäge-Ornamentik group. In fact, the forms are soft and rounded and the two-dimensionality is abandoned in favor of a vivid polychromy in which the white lines contribute to an effect of plasticism. Some bands reproduce 10th- century models in blue and gold, as on f. 262v 34, or develop ornament inspired by pseudo-cufic decorations35 in the multicolor language that translates the influence of the Arab script, as in f.88r (fig. 5).

This kind of modular composition divides the frame in units, broken by vertical elements creating a rhythm of descending and ascending lines, in which the concavities are filled with different elements: half-palmettes, rosettes, little crosses. Because of its formal conception, broken and full of corners, this pattern is often interpreted as an Eastern influence on the Byzantine ornament36. Yet, in this case the rinceaux seems to be a middle solution between the classic band-shaped headpiece consisting of palmettes and their pseudo-cufic translation. It is difficult to ascertain an evident connection with pseudo-cufic ornaments as, instead, the motif could be interpreted as a variation of the classical models. Indeed, in looking for definitive answers on its origins we risk to enter in the endless battle between Orient oder Rom.


Кантоне Валентина
(Университет г. Падуи, Италия)

Проблема восточных влияний на византийское искусство в эпоху македонского Ренессанса:
некоторые иллюстрированные рукописи из Национальной библиотеки Греции и Национальной библиотеки Венеции

Орнаментика группы византийских рукописей константинопольского происхождения, датируемых периодом между концом IX и первой четвертью XI вв., может дать нам новые данные для рассмотрения проблемы взаимодействия между византийским и мусульманским искусством в Македонский период. В частности, орнаменты рукописей Gr. II, 4 из библиотеки Марчиана в Венеции, №№ 59 и 91 из Национальной библиотеки Греции, c П-образными ленточными заставками, содержат и элементы классического происхождения, и псевдо-куфические мотивы. Популярность этих мотивов в византийском искусстве засвидетельствована в памятниках архитектуры, мозаиках и фресках, ювелирных изделиях, керамике, тканях. Используя псевдо-куфические элементы самых разнообразных форм, византийские ремесленники придавали своим изделиям оттенок экзотики.


1 I would like to thank Professor Theano Chatzidakis, Professor Santo Lucà and the Doctors Maja Kominko, Isabella Schwaderer and Andrea Celli for their precious help in writing this paper.
2 K. Weitzmann, Die Byzantinische Buchmalerei des 9. und 10. Jahrhunderts, Wien 1996, I, p. 7; some of them pertain to the Klassizistische Blau-Gold Ornamentgruppe.
3 K. Theocharidou, I architektoniki tou naou tis Agias Sophias stin Thessaloniki, Athina 1994, p. 169, fig. 40.3; Ioannina, Byzantine Museum, cat. no. 8.7 (C. Vanderheyde, La sculpture architecturale byzantine dans le thème de Nikopolis du Xe au début du XIII siècle, Paris 2005, pp. 21-30).
4 J.C. Anderson, Tiles, Books, and the “Church Like Bride Adorned with Pearls and Gold”, in A lost art rediscovered. The architectural Ceramics of Byzantium, a cura di S.E.J. Gerstel and J.A. Lauffenburger, University Park 2001, pp. 119-141.
5 A. Marava-Chatzinicolaou, C. Toufexi-Paschou, Catalogue of the illuminated Byzantine Manuscripts of the National Library of Greece. Volume I. Manuscripts of the New Testaments Texts 10th–12th century, Athens 1978, n. 1, pp. 17-27, figs. 1-10, in particular, fig. 2.
6 S. Carboni, in Glass of the Sultans, catalogue of the exhibition, S. Carboni and Whitehouse ed. (New York, The Corning Museum of Glass, 24 May — 3 September 2001; The Metropolitan Museum, 2 October 2001 — 13 January 2002; Athens, Benaki Museum, 20 February — 15 May 2002), New York 2001, n. 112, p. 225 (Inv. The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, 64.1.32); n. 111, pp. 223-224 (Inv. Trustees of the British Museum, London, 1978.10-11.2); n. 110, pp. 221-222 (Inv. The David Collection, Copenhagen, 4/1987).
7 N.M. El Cheikh, Byzantium Viewed by the Arabs, Cambridge 2004, pp. 100-111; P. Magdalino, The road to Baghdad in the Thought-World of Ninth-Century Byzantium, in Byzantium in the Ninth Century: Dead or Alive? Papers from the Thirtieth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Birmingham 1996, L. Brubaker ed., Birmingham 1998, pp. 195-213; L.E. Goodman, The translation of Greek Materials into Arabic, in The Cambridge history of Arabic literature: religion, learning and science in the Abbassid period, M.J.L. Young ed., Cambridge 1990, pp. 477-497.
8 V. Cantone, Bisanzio e l’Islam nel codice Greco II, 4 (832) della Biblioteca Marciana di Venezia, in L’arte e il suo pubblico: committenza e rappresentazione della società, atti del convegno (Padova, 28-29maggio 2009), A. Fonda ed., in press; J. Leroy, J.-H. Sautel, Répertoire de réglures dans les manuscrits grecs sur parchemin, Paris 1995, pp. 243, 292; S. Lucà, Scritture e libri della “scuola niliana”, in Scritture, libri e testi nelle aree provinciali di Bisanzio, atti del convegno (Erice, 18-25 settembre 1988), a cura di G. Cavallo, G. de Gregorio e M. Maniaci, Spoleto 1991, pp. 319-387, in part. note 37, p. 328; L. Perria, Manoscritti miniati in “stile blu” nei secoli X-XI, in Rivista di studi bizantini e neoellenici, n.s. 24 (34) (1987), pp. 85-124, p. 105 note 63; M.L. Agati e S.J. Voicu, Due manoscritti crisostomici ‘gemelli’ rigati secondo il tipo Leroy K20E2, in Bollettino dei classici 7, ser. 3 (1986), pp. 137-151; E. Mioni, Bibliothecae Divi Marci Venetiarum. Codices Graeci manuscripti. Volumen I, Codices in classes a prima usque ad quintam inclusi. pars prior, classis I-classis II, codd. 1-120, (Indici e cataloghi. n.s. VI), Roma 1967, p. 89; Codicum omnium graecorum, arabicorum aliarumque linguarum orientalium, qui manuscripti in Bibliotheca ss. Johannis et Pauli Venetiarum, Ordinis Praedicatorum, asservantur, catalogus (Nuova raccolta d’opuscoli scientifici e filologici. XX), Venezia 1779, pp. 161-270, p. 191.
9 V. Cantone, Bisanzio e l’Islam nel codice Greco II, 4 (832), cit.
10 S. Lucà, Scritture e libri della “scuola niliana”, cit., note 37, p. 328.
11 P. Canart, Varia palaeographica 4. Deux autres manuscrits copiés par Théophylacte, prêtre et notaire du Laurentianus conv. soppr. 191, in Miscellanea Bibliothecae Apostolicae Vaticanae. X, Città del Vaticano 2003, pp. 122-125.
12 A. Grohmann, The origin and early development of floriated Kufic, in Ars Orientalis 2 (1957), pp. 183-213.
13 G.C. Miles, Byzantium and the Arabs: Crete and Aegean, in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 18 (1968), pp. 3-32.
14 E. Maayan-Fanar, The fragmentary body: the place of human limbs in Byzantine illuminated initials, in Byzantion. Revue International des Études Byzantines 76 (2006), pp. 241-263, note 7, p. 244, note 50 p. 259; R. Nelson, The manuscripts of Antonios Malakes and the collecting and appreciation of illuminated books in the early palaeologan period, in Jahrbuch der österreichischen Byzantinistik 36 (1986), pp. 228-254, note 31, p. 235; Weitzmann, Die Byzantinische Buchmalerei cit. I,p. 80; Nelson, Palaeologan illuminated ornament cit., note 14 p. 10; Marava-Chatzinicolaou, Toufexi-Paschou, Catalogue of the illuminated Byzantine Manuscripts cit., I, 1978, n. 4, pp. 36-42, figs. 25-42, with complete bibliography; G. Cavallo, Funzione e strutture della maiuscola greca tra i secoli VIII e XI, in La Paléographie grecque et Byzantine, Paris 1977, pp. 95-138 (on p. 109 the author suggests that the codex “is probably of the 11th c.); K. Aland, Kurzgefasste Liste der Griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments, I, Gesamtübersicht, Berlin 1963, L 425, p. 229; I. and A. Sakkelion, Katalogos ton cheirografon tes ethnikes bibliothekes tes Ellados, Athina 1892, p. 12-13.
15 E. Mioni, Introduzione alla paleografia greca, Padova 1973, p. 58.
16 Ibid., p. 39.
17 V. Cantone, Bisanzio Minore? Gli ornati nel codice Marciano Greco I, 18 (1276) nella cultura artistica costantinopolitana di epoca mediobizantina, in Citazioni, modelli e tipologie nella produzione dell’opera d’arte, atti del convegno (Padova, 29-30 maggio 2008), ed. C. Caramanna, L. Nazzi, N. Macola, with complete bibliography, in press; I. Furlan, Codici Greci illustrati della Biblioteca Marciana, Padova 1978, I, pp. 33-34, tav. 3, figg. 20-23; E. Mioni, Codices Graeci Manuscripti Bibliothecae Divi Marci Venetiarum, nuova serie VI, I, pars prior, classis I — classis II, codd. 1-120, Roma 1967, pp. 24-25;
18 L. Perria, Lezionario dei Vangeli. Greco, in I Vangeli dei popoli. La parola e l’immagine del Cristo nelle culture e nella storia, catalogo della mostra a cura di F. D Aiuto, G. Morello e A.M. Piazzoni (Città del Vaticano, Palazzo della Cancelleria, 21 giugno-10 dicembre 2000), Città del Vaticano 2000, n. 40, pp. 211- 213.
19 Weitzmann, Die Byzantinische Buchmalerei cit., I, p. 24.
20 A. Grabar, La décoration architecturale de l'église de la Vierge à Saint-Luc en Phocide, et les débuts des influences islamiques sul l'art byzantin de Grèce, in Comptes rendus des sèances de l’Academie des inscriptions es belles-lettres, n.s., Paris 1971, pp. 15-37; T. Chatzidakis-Bacharas, Les peintures murales de Hosios Loukas. Les chapelles occidentales, Athènes 1982, pp. 125-135; L. Boura, O gliptos diakosmos tou naou sto monastiri tou Osiou Louka, Athina 1980.
21 D. Fotopoulos, A. Delivorrias, Greece at the Benaki Museum, Athens 1997, fig. 379, p. 216, cat. n. 11456, silver embossed and chased, traces of gilding and niello, unknown provenance; A. Drandaki, in Greek Jewellery. 6000 Years of Tradition, catalogue of the exhibition (Thessaloniki, Villa Bianca, 21 december 1997 — 21 February 1998), n. 285, p. 232.
22 M. Mundell Mango, Polychrome tiles found at Istanbul: typology, chronology and function, in A lost art rediscovered cit., pp. 13-41.
23 A. Walker, Meaningful mingling: classicizing imagery and Islamicizing script in a Byzantine bowl, in The Art Bulletin 90 (2008), 1, pp. 32-53. She proposes a semantic meanings connected with the divination by means of water in pseudo-cufic decorations of the well knows bowl conserved in the Treasure of Saint Mark in Venice.
24 A. Cutler, Gifts and gift exchange as aspects of the Byzantine, Arab, and related economies, in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 55 (2001), pp. 247-278; Id., Les échanges des dons entre Byzance et l’Islam (IX-X siècle), in Journal des Savants, 1996, pp. 51-66.
25 M.T. Mansouri, La Mosquée de Constantinople, in Byzantiaka 11 (1992), pp. 117-127.
26 C. Mango, The art of the Byzantine Empire, 312-1453, Sources and Documents, New Jersey 1972, p. 160.
27 A. Grabar, Le succès des orientaux à la cour byzantine sous les Macédoniens, in Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst 2 (1951), ser. 3, pp. 32-60.
28 A. Hunt, Comnenian Aristocratic Palace Decorations: Descriptions and Islamic Connections, in The Byzantine Aristocracy IX to XIII Centuries, M. Angold ed., Oxford 1984, pp. 140-142.
29 H. Kennedy , Byzantine-Arab diplomacy in the Near East from the Islamic conquests to the mid eleventh century, in Byzantine Diplomacy, J. Shepard and F. Franklin ed., Ashgate 1992, pp. 133-143, published also in Id., The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, Ashgate 2006, IX.
30 J.-C. Cheynet, L’apport arabe à l’aristocratie byzantine des Xe-XIe siècles, in Byzantinoslavica 56 (1995), pp. 137-146.
31 R. Nelson, Palaeologan illuminated ornament and the arabesque, in Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte 46 (1988), pp. 7-22, note 62, p. 20.
32 Marava-Chatzinicolaou, Toufexi-Paschou, Catalogue of the illuminated Byzantine Manuscripts cit., n. 11, pp. 64-67, figs. 100-106; J. Irigoin, Pour une étude des centres de copie Byzantins, in Scriptorium (1958), pp. 208-227: 209; Aland, Kurzgefasste Liste cit., n. 1828, p. 156; I. and A. Sakkelion, Katalogos ton cheirografon cit., p. 17.
33 Marava-Chatzinicolaou, Toufexi-Paschou, Catalogue of the illuminated Byzantine Manuscripts cit., n. 11, p. 66.
34 Ibid., fig. 105.
35 V.N. Zalesskaja, Nouvelles découvertes de céramique peinte byzantine du Xe siècle, in Cahiers archéologiques 32 (1984), pp. 49-60, figs. 5, 8;
36 Nelson, Palaeologan illuminated ornament cit., p. 22; I. Hutter, Corpus der Byzantinischen Miniaturenhandschriften, Stuttgart 1982, Vol. III.2. Oxford, Bodleian Library, figs. 117, 118, 119.