Byzantine Manuscripts

Marginal Psalter
Constantinople, ca. 1300, with 16th century additions


This manuscript, illustrated with 155 marginal paintings, is one the few surviving marginal psalters, in which images provide a pictorial commentary on the Biblical text. Other examples include the Khludov Psalter (ca. 850, Moscow State Historical Museum,), the Barberini Psalter (ca. 1050), the Theodore Psalter (1066, British Library), and a Cyrillic psalter made in Kiev (1397, National Library of Russia,). The Walters' psalter was apparently copied from the same eleventh-century model as the Saint Petersburg manuscript, as the iconography of the two is very similar.

"Imperial" Menologion with Scenes of Martyrdom

Constantinople, ca. 1025-1050 

This manuscript contains the biographies of saints whom the church commemorates in the month of January. It was originally part of a set containing volumes for each month of the year. A companion volume, with texts for March, now survives in Moscow (State Historical Museum MS gr. 183). Each chapter in both manuscripts opens with a miniature depicting the death of the respective saint, or less often, another significant event from his or her life. Each text also ends with a seven-line prayer for the well-being of an emperor whose name is spelled by the lines' initial letters as "MIC[H]AEL P." This is almost certainly the Byzantine emperor Michael IV, who reigned from 1034 to 1041. The meaning of the letter "P" is not quite clear. When first used, the books were read out in the emperor's presence, probably in one of the numerous chapels of the great imperial palace in Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. A single leaf from the Walters' volume is now kept in Berlin (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Ms. Graec. Fol. 31). By the sixteenth century, several folios were missing and paper leaves copied from a Metaphrastian Menologion were added at this time.

Book of Hours

Mid 15th century

Illustrated Books of Hours in Greek are extremely rare. This example is also of interest because its miniatures show interaction between the Late Byzantine and Gothic artistic styles. It may have been copied on the island of Crete, which in the fifteenth century was ruled by Venice.

Acts and Epistles of the Apostles with Liturgical Readings

Early 12th century, with 14th and 15th century additions

This manuscript is one of the relatively few illustrated Byzantine copies of the Acts and Epistles of the Apostles. It consists of three parts produced at different dates. The New Testament text with its accompanying prefatory material (known as Euthalian apparatus, after the name of its supposed compiler Euthalius) was copied in the early twelfth century. Then, lists of readings were added at two stages in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to facilitate their use in church. Some of the Epistles have lost the miniature that once marked their beginning. A couple of lost leaves were replaced in the sixteenth century.

T'oros Roslin Gospel

Cilician Armenia, 1262 

This manuscript was made in 1262 by Toros Roslin, the celebrated illuminator who extended the iconographic repertoire by defining a narrative Gospel cycle beyond the traditional portraits of the Evangelists. This signed manuscript was created at the scriptorium of Hromkla, which became the leading artistic center of Armenian Cilicia under the rule of Catholicos Constantine I (1221-1267). As an extensive colophon starting on fol. 406v explains, Toros created this manuscript under commission from the nephew of Constantine, a priest also named Toros. It is one of seven known manuscripts bearing Toros Roslins signature, and it is the most sumptuous of them all, with 15 miniatures and 67 smaller illustrations. The style of the images suggests that Toros had several assistants helping with the illustrations, though the overall quality remains extremely high. The manuscript was long cherished within the Armenian church. Even in the seventeenth century, its illumination served as a model for Armenian scribes.

Gospel Book

First half 10th century

This is a relatively early copy of the Gospels in the original Greek, remarkable on account of its calligraphic handwriting, illustrations, and prefatory material, the latter including Gospel prefaces by the sixth-century Cosmas Indicopleustes. It contains four full-page miniatures. The volume is now incomplete and misbound. Four miniatures in the collection of the late Dr. Seigfried Amberg-Herzog, Switzerland, were taken from this manuscript.

Evangelist Mark Seated in his Study

Constantinople, 1025-1050

In Byzantium, the revival of classical forms during the Macedonian Renaissance briefly reinstated naturalism as an aesthetic principle. But the desire to represent things as they are in the natural world soon disappeared. In this illuminated leaf from a gospel lectionary produced in Constantinople in the second quarter of the eleventh century, the Evangelist Mark is depicted sitting at his desk, thinking. The pose replicates that commonly used in Antiquity to represent philosophers. The persistence of the ancient prototype is evident in the style of dress, which is rendered with fluid brushstrokes. Highlights pick up the play of light on the drapery folds, conveying a sense of the body underneath. On the other hand, any illusion of space is subverted by the uniform gold ground behind the Evangelist; the furniture is flattened out with no pretence of foreshortening or perspectival rendering. The supernatural status of the saint is thus reaffirmed by the unreality of his surroundings.

Apostles Paul and Peter and the Evangelists 

Late 11th century

Evangelist John Seated

Late 13th century

Moses Receiving the Law

1087-88

Evangelist Luke Seated

Late 13th century

Christ Appearing to His Disciples

Late 13th century

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016