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Valentina Cantone (University of Padua)
A study on the illuminated manuscripts from the parchment to the digital library online: report on a project financed by the European Social Founds

The manuscript Marcianus Graecus 360 (696) of Venice is a Menologium of 550 sheets of fine parchment containing the readings for the months of July and August, written by a single copyist in the so called minuscule bouletée. Until the 1992, scholars dated it to the 10th or 11th century1. Only after it was generally accepted that the copyist was active in the middle of the 10th century in a prestigious Constantinopolitan scriptorium, probably connected with the imperial court2.
Recent researches3 contain some new insights into the nature of the distinctive scripture inserted elegantly by the copyist under the 31 headpieces composed by rich frames in blue, gold and light green colors. A similar scripture rich of gilded decorations – pearls, curls, dashes, sometimes vegetal elements like leaves or palms – appears in a group of fifteen manuscripts made in Constantinople during the Macedonian rule. In analysis of these codices it is possible to underline not only the different styles of decorating the letters, but also the spiritual character of that kind of script which is called Auszeichnungsmajuskel4.
The gilded headpieces and the precious writing in the codex Marcianus define a significant relation between text and image. Yet, exploring the strong connection between the two different kinds of decorations – words and illuminations – could help us to develop new insights into the character of the manuscript and its connection with the holy space in which it was employed. In fact, this kind of distinctive writing is used almost exclusively in manuscripts containing the New Testament and liturgical texts5. Only rarely can this script be found in manuscripts of the Ancient Testament and examples of its use in profane books are ever fewer. It appears that the “decorated liturgical” was developed for its symbolic function6. Its opulent exquisite qualities, the mise en page, the close aesthetic relationship with the kephalaia are evocative of the presence of the Holy. Far from being a simple way to indicate the incipit of the texts read during the liturgy, the Auszeichnungsmajuskel gives with their preciosity concrete form to the words inspired directly by God. At the same time, the blue and gold headpieces evoke the gilded space where His holy presence dwells, as was also done in the temple of Solomon covered by gilded sculptures and engravings of cherubim, palms and flower buds7.
A complete repertory of the decorations in the codex Marcianus with the critical discussion of its relationship with the architectural sculpture will be published in the monograph which I’m currently preparing. Here I will only show few examples in order to demonstrate the use of suggestions of architectural origins in the frames of this manuscript, not only for their decorative models, but also for their symbolic meaning.
The headpiece which introduces the Encomium on the Maccabees of John the Chrysostom is decorated with a vine-scroll of leaves and inverted palms. Like a gilded door which leads our eyes and thoughts into the inspired words of the Chrysostom, the kephalaia closely cites the forms sculpted on the epistyle which crowns the templon of the church of the Panagia of Hosios Loukas8. The frame which introduces the martyr Aimilianos is decorated by a geometric composition of intersected circles of traditional origin, as appeared in the little pilaster of the templon in the North church of Selçijker, the ancient capital of the Diocesis Sebastena in Phrygia9. Another example shows the versatility of the stylized models derived from the decorative repertory of the barriers of Justinian period. The sculptures of the church of Constantine Lips, drungarios of the Byzantine navy, preserved a language of articulation akin to earlier Byzantine models. Yet, in the later Constantinopolitan church of Christ Pantepoptes the epistyle of the templon shows a simplified version of the palms. The same level of stylization appears in the codex Marcianus, demonstrating the connection of its repertory to a language of metropolitan art where the carved sculpture was covered by precious metals10 and pigments.
The close stylistic relationship between these headpieces and the sculptures which decorate the Middle Byzantine templon gives a contribution in order to understand the performative and contextual meaning of the images. The manuscript was made to be seen and read in the larger context of a church or a monastery during the public ceremonies. The decorations on parchment create a miniaturized holy space in dialog with the monumental11 holy space in which the codex was located. Both are referred to the heavenly temple, prototype of the Byzantine churches.
The connection between the representation of a sacred space and the presence of God is traditional in Byzantine Art. For example, in the mosaics of the dome of Saint George in Thessaloniki, the revelation of the holy is expressed through the Saints standing in adoration under the Heavenly Jerusalem12 in front of the Theophany. Every figure is flanked by the name written in majuscule script under the closest arch, showing a relation between scripture and architecture testified also in the mosaics of Jordan13. The celestial architecture in Thessaloniki cites the forms of the frons scenae of the ancient theatres, but the typology and abundance of the decorations seems to be referred to a different model. In fact, the figures are framed by architectures entirely covered by gold gems and pearls and adorned by palms, flower buds and geometric motifs which include the crux gemmata with the Holy Spirit in the middle of the composition (fig. 1). The same repertory is employed in the church of Saint Polyeuctos in Constantinople14, where the connection with the temple of Solomon was made explicit in the plan and dimension of the building, as well in the decorative elements, commemorated by the poem preserved in the Palatine Anthology15. The symbolic meaning of these gilded decorations must be considered a topos corroborated by a long theological and homiletic tradition. The relationship between the Heavenly Temple and the earthly temple is elaborated in order to legitimate the liturgy16 also in the most important building of Constantinople17. In fact, the style and the ornaments sculpted in the church of Saint Sophia were developed in blue and gold pigments by the middle Byzantine illuminators. In the Menologium of Basil II18, for example, the Saints are often depicted praying in a church19, or under generic architectural structures adorned with the same precious decorations in Laubsägeornamentik which appears in the Menologium of Venice.
The relationship between architecture and headpieces in Middle Byzantine illuminated manuscripts is well known and exemplified by the numerous tempietti and ciboria20 depicted on parchment. Among the best known examples there are the Greek 70 of Paris21, the Greek I, 8 of Venice22 and the Phillips 1538 of Berlin23. In the last of these, which contains the Hippiatrika, the ciborium is a minuscule but significant presence dominated by the large dimension of the luxurious headpiece which expresses a different, but homologous significance in glorifying with gold, flowers and palms the incipit of the first book. In that case the ciborium solves its function a little bit shyly, may be for the profane argument of the manuscript which is horse medicine, not liturgical readings. In the Menologium of Venice the role of the gilded headpieces is very similar to the architectural decorations in the mosaics of the church of Saint George. They introduce the holy presence of the Saints, through their words and life, reproducing on parchment the same meanings full of theological implications. The Canon gr. 110 of Oxford24 (fig. 2) and the codex Ottobonianus Graecus 4 of the Vatican Library, which has been attributed25 to the same scribe of the Marcianus, show the free interchange of such architectural elements depicted on parchment: archivolts, architraves, the so-called pylai and the simple rectangular frames. They introduce the theological thoughts of the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church, with the blue and gold decorations which correspond to different doors to enter in the holy temple of the Wisdom revealed in their Acts and homilies.
It is possible that the simpler frames in the manuscripts of the Vatican Library and Venice should be recognized as the blue and gold version of an epistyle. In fact, the sculptures which decorate the Middle Byzantine templon could explain the adoption of the trilitic system in the byzantine kephalaia, interpreted as a simplified version of an architrave. This might be supported by the sharing of similar and sometimes identical repertory of decorative models taken from the architectural sculpture.
The codex Marcianus Graecus 360 with its 31 unpublished headpieces of Constantinopolitan origin provides a significant contribution into our knowledge of these issues. As such, it was already entirely digitalized to be published online for the interest of the international scientific community26.