Thursday, July 12, 2007

Illuminated Manuscripts of Acts

Mikael Parsons, author of a many interesting and important books, one-time visiting fellow at Tyndale House, long-time follower of this blog and NT Prof at Baylor, requests some help: "I wonder if you would mind posting a request for bibliography discussing illuminated manuscripts that depict scenes in Acts (and I'd be grateful specifically for some bib on the Rabbula ms.)"

Here is the background: "Heidi and I are working (slowly) on the Blackwells commentary on Acts; at the moment we are looking into Acts in the history of Art. I think the earliest image of Pentecost is to be found in the Rabbula Gospels (here in Florence, where we are at the moment).

It also contains an early (but not the earliest) image of the ascension:

and one of the few illustrations of the selection of Matthias."

So, go to it.


  1. These aren't exactly bibliographical references, but here's something:

    The index of images at
    may put you on the scent of some illuminated manuscripts that describe scenes in Acts. The entry for the Virgin Mary lists pictures of Pentecost which include her.

    At there's a picture depicting tongues of fire (they resemble rays of light in the picture) descending upon 11 apostles, with a church-building in their midst. It is briefly described at . (I can’t tell if this is indeed from a MS.)

    Pentecost is also depicted in a Book of Hours at .

    A showing of manuscript-pages at includes an image of Pentecost. When enlarged, it is accompanied by a profile-listing that dates the MS to about 1030-1040.

    Probably some time spent with the "Images" feature at Google would yield more such pictures.

    Regarding the Rabbula Gospels: .

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.
    Minister, Curtisville Christian Church
    Tipton, Indiana (USA)

  2. Mikeal,

    The Rabbula Gospels appear in the catalogue at the back of Michelle Brown (ed), In the Beginning: Bibles before the Year 1000, 2006 (perhaps you saw it at the last SBL meeting?) and there is some bibliography there.

    Best wishes

    Andrew Gregory

  3. The Rabbula picture of the ascension is interesting/odd in that Jesus stands in the midst of the twelve. It is almost as if the Spirit comes down upon him, rather than is poured out by him. That and the dove suggest an allusion to the baptism.

  4. thanks to James for the websites and to Andrew for the lead on bib from Andrew (I had not seen the catalogue). I am interested also from those of you who work particularly with illuminated mss if you know of other early scenes from Acts. (I have some bib already from some art historians if anyone is interested.) I take it these illuminations are themselves early efforts at interpretation and intend to approach them in this way. thanks again for this help and apologies for my silence (i am in florence and have sporadic access to the internet).

  5. Hi Peter,
    I'm unclear about your comment. in the ascension picture, Jesus is above the disciples (and Mary) not exactly 'in their midst'. or do you mean Pentecost in which case I think it is Mary who is in the midst of the disciples (she's also in blue (her tell-tale garb) in the middle of the ascension scene. it's not uncommon I am finding (in fact rather expected in the case of the ascension) to find Mary present.or am i missing the obvious?
    any commments of the selection of Matthias? This one seems to be very rare in the visual tradition.

  6. Thanks Mike,

    Yes, that was a stupid mistake, I did mean that pentecost picture. And the blue figure is Mary is it? Not Jesus. So two stupid comments. Nevermind. I can see that she is the same one as in the ascension picture. Fair enough. Interesting to put her so central of course, but fairly obvious.

    On Matthias. I didn't get a very high resolution picture there, so I can't tell whether it is meant to be writing on the ground between the disciples or just patterned squiggles.
    Eleven sitting in a circle with the two candidates standing. Not much else to report. Not sure about the geese (are they geese?).