Gospel Lectionary (Dumbarton Oaks Manuscript 1)
Middle Byzantine, 2nd half of 11th Century
Tempera on vellum
W.32.6 x H. 24.8 cm
Gospel lectionaries compiled episodes from the life of Christ, not in natural narrative order, but in the order they were read according to the liturgical calendar, beginning with Easter. The lectionary was a working book, and the signs of wear and tear on this manuscript are the result of repeated use in the performance of the liturgy.
Liturgical books were among the most expensive and most crucial necessities for churches and monasteries, which relied on benefactors for funding. Deluxe manuscripts enriched the written word by the use of gold, elaborately decorated initial letters, and marginal or full-page painted images, all of which honored God and expressed the extravagance and piety of the patron. The Dumbarton Oaks Lectionary has several of these embellishments. What is particularly intriguing, however, is the way they are organized within the book; there is a radical change between folios 41 and 42. The first section is written in carmine ink (a costly ink whose red cast comes from carminic acid, obtained from the scales of certain insects) dusted with gold dust. There are many decorative initials and marginal images, both depicting appropriate New Testament scenes. From folio 42r. on, some of the extravagance disappears. The ink is brown, the initials, though decorative, are not decorated with figures, and there are no marginal images. On the other hand, the format of the page changes from the more common columns to the shape of a cross, a form known only in a handful of surviving lectionary manuscripts. The only illustration in the cruciform section of the manuscript is the image of Christ crucified, echoing the symbolic shape of the text block. Why this change from the heavily-painted columnar folios to the sparser cruciform section? The patron may have seen a cruciform lectionary and decided to emulate it. The scribe may have misunderstood the plan and begun in columns, only to be corrected forty-one folios later. It is impossible to say for certain.