Monday, March 31, 2014

Between Constantinople and Rome. An Illuminated Byzantine Gospel Book (Paris gr. 54)

Between Constantinople and RomeKathleen Maxwell, Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Art History, Santa Clara University, wrote her dissertation on “Paris, Bibliothéque Nationale, Codex Grec 54: An Analysis of the Text and Miniatures” under the supervision of Robert S. Nelson and now her monograph on the manuscript has been published by Ashgate as Between Constantinople and Rome. An Illuminated Byzantine Gospel Book (Paris gr. 54) and the Union of Churches. Table of contents here.

In 2006 at the SBL International Meeting in Edinburgh I met Kathleen Maxwell for the first time. There I heard her present a fascinating paper on “Paris 54 and Garrett 3” and I had the opportunity to chat to her afterwards and offer some small advice on textual criticism. Since then we have met several times at various conferences through the years and today we are both members of the IGNTP committee.

In her Edinburgh presentation Maxwell had mainly approached these MSS – Paris 54 (16) and Princeton, Garrett 3 (1528) – as an art historian, and had found a remarkable link in regard to the illuminations. In Garrett’s texts there were curious red crosses which, as it turned out, indicated the exact places of the illuminations in Paris 54, and she demonstrated that they were textually related too (by using a few examples from the Text und Textwert-volumes). In fact it turned out that another MS, Athos, Iviron 5 (990) was connected to the group. A comparative study of these three MSS is now included in her monograph as a special appendix (Appendix C).

At one point in Maxwell’s presentation she told us the story of how she had phoned Bart Ehrman and asked him if he had seen similar red crosses with this function elsewhere. Ehrman had not, but told her to phone Metzger, which she did (“it was almost like calling God” - she said), and Metzger kindly replied that he had not seen anything of the like either.

The Paris Codex Grec 54 is curious for many reasons. The bilingual diglot from the 13th Cent. (=Greg.-Aland 16) was dubbed by Gregory “the rainbow manuscript” (Canon and Text, 372) since it uses a range of different colour to indicate different speakers:
  • bright red ink: simple narrative text
  • darker red/crimson ink: the genealogy of Christ, the words of angels, the words of Jesus
  • blue ink: OT passages, words of disciples, Zachariah, Mary, Elizabeth, Simeon, John the Baptist
  • dark brown ink: words of Pharisees, people from crowd, Judas Iscariot, the devil, shepherds, scribes, the Centurion
(More on this aspect here.)

The conclusion to Maxwell’s  introduction is worth citing:
This study affirms the importance of a multidisciplinary approach in the study of a complex manuscript such as Paris 54. While nothing specific is known about the origins of Paris 54, a very plausible explanation can be posited for virtually every aspect of this manuscript, including its unfinished status.
Information from the publisher
Imprint: Ashgate
Illustrations: Includes 33 colour and 54 b&w illustrations
Published: March 2014
Format: 244 x 172 mm Extent: 390 pages
Binding: Hardback
ISBN: 978-1-4094-5744-2 
ISBN Short: 9781409457442

This is a study of the artistic and political context that led to the production of a truly exceptional Byzantine illustrated manuscript. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, codex grec 54 is one of the most ambitious and complex manuscripts produced during the Byzantine era. This thirteenth-century Greek and Latin Gospel book features full-page evangelist portraits, an extensive narrative cycle, and unique polychromatic texts. However, it has never been the subject of a comprehensive study and the circumstances of its commission are unknown. In this book Kathleen Maxwell addresses the following questions: what circumstances led to the creation of Paris 54? Who commissioned it and for what purpose? How was a deluxe manuscript such as this produced? Why was it left unfinished? How does it relate to other Byzantine illustrated Gospel books?

Paris 54’s innovations are a testament to the extraordinary circumstances of its commission. Maxwell’s multi-disciplinary approach includes codicological and paleographical evidence together with New Testament textual criticism, artistic and historical analysis. She concludes that Paris 54 was never intended to copy any other manuscript. Rather, it was designed to eclipse its contemporaries and to physically embody a new relationship between Constantinople and the Latin West, as envisioned by its patron. Analysis of Paris 54’s texts and miniature cycle indicates that it was created at the behest of a Byzantine emperor as a gift to a pope, in conjunction with imperial efforts to unify the Latin and Orthodox churches. As such, Paris 54 is a unique witness to early Palaeologan attempts to achieve church union with Rome.

Contents: Introduction; Paris 54: codicological and paleographical considerations; Paris 54: modus operandi of scribes and artists; The Greek Gospel text of Paris 54 and New Testament textual criticism; The three artists responsible for the narrative miniatures and evangelist portraits of Paris 54; Imitation and innovation: a comparative study of the narrative cycles and evangelist portraits of Paris 54 and Athos, Iviron 5; Paris 54’s place in thirteenth-century Constantinopolitan book illumination; Art and diplomacy in late thirteenth-century Constantinople: Paris 54 and the union of churches; Epilogue: from Constantinople to Catherine de Medici; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.

Reviews: ‘Based on extensive new research, this ground-breaking study places a richly illuminated Byzantine Gospel Book between East and West at a crucial time.’
John Lowden, Courtauld Institute of Art, UK

‘With its bilingual text, polychrome script, and extensive Gospel cycle, Paris, gr. 54 is the most intricately planned and opulently produced manuscript of late thirteenth-century Byzantium; it is also among the most enigmatic, an unfinished effort devoid of testimony to its patron or intended purpose. Professor Maxwell offers a compelling theory about its conception in a Constantinople torn by tension over the union of the Churches. But her meticulous examination yields something yet more fundamental. Her keen visual analysis of the processes of Paris 54’s production and the codex from which its miniatures were copied is matched here by a comparably detailed analysis of its Greek Gospel text and the manuscript from which it was copied. Her demonstration that Paris 54’s text has a genealogy as independent and revealing as its codicology and illumination is a signal achievement, and it opens a challenging new chapter in the study of illuminated books.’
Annemarie Weyl Carr, Southern Methodist University, USA

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