Frescoes from within the Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian (Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi), Nabk, Syria. The monastery of Saint Moses has existed on this location since the mid-6th century. Construction began on the present structure in 1058. The monastery fell into disuse and was abandoned in the early 19th century, but has since been restored and is currently a functioning community of the Syriac Catholic Rite.
Miniature of the Annunciation, 12th century
MS 2877, Gospel, Armenian
Currently housed in the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, Yerevan, Armenia
Miniature of the Baptism of Christ, 1038
MS 6201, Gospel, Armenian (Taron?)
Currently housed in the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, Yerevan, Armenia
Full-page miniatures from a manuscript of the Four Gospels.
Armenian, Vaspurakan, 14th century.
From the top:
- A triple miracle, showing three disparate miracles of Jesus happening simultaneously! You can see the healed paralytic, getting up and taking his mat and walking away. Above that, see Lazarus in the tomb. Above him is a figure undoing his funeral wrappings, presumably because he is no longer dead. (I am aware of no other instances of Lazarus being unwrapped, if anyone is, let me know!) Below Jesus’ feet is a figure I have interpreted as the hemorrhaging woman. This image is unique for its conflation of three miracles into one picture. Efficient, but also symbolic in an important way, I think.
- Jesus entering Jerusalem. At first, I thought the figure in the tree might be intended to represent Zacchaeus, even though Zacchaeus is from a different passage. The figure, however, holds an axe in his hand, and may merely be cutting down palm branches to wave at Jesus. If you can read the medieval Armenian script, maybe you can tell me.
- The Last Supper/Jesus Walks on Water and calls Peter
- The paralytic is lowered through the roof/ I’m not completely sure, but the man’s wild hair and unkempt clothing lead me to interpret this as the healing of a demoniac.I see some #medievalpoc in here though!
During times of political and economic turmoil, manuscript illumination was kept alive in the more remote regions of Armenia, in monasteries. Created in the 14th century, these manuscripts date to a period when the Armenian kingdom was under Mongol rule.The Vaspurakan school comes from the region of Vaspurakan, a formerly Armenian province, now located in northeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran. The 11th-14th century art of this region may be described as a ‘native’ style, free from the classical influence of other regions and periods. Art from this region is remarkably original, perhaps indicating original interpretation of Biblical scenes, rather than re-iteration of established artistic motifs.
Unfortunately, the study of Armenian art has been very much neglected. Even more sadly, so much of it has been lost, due to the atrocities and injustices perpetrated upon the region by the Ottoman Turks.
David harping, from the Vespasian Psalter
English, 2nd quarter of the 8th cent.
Cotton Vespasian A I, ff. 30v-31
The facing page of the miniature is the 26th Psalm. Note the interlinear gloss (the red lettering). This is the earliest extant example of any portion of the Bible translated into Old English.
Madonna from the Annunciation scene
Half of a diptych, other half with Angel Gabriel lost
Italian, Venetian School, early 14th cent.
Currently in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Note the spindle and the red thread the Virgin holds.
My photographs, the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.
One of my favorite churches we visited in Rome (and we visited a lot) largely because I cannot tolerate baroque art and all these frescoes, although some of them are modern restorations, are nicely mediaeval, and the all match. In so many churches there is so much conflict between all the periods and materials.
This church has an interesting crypt which I remember nothing about except that I went in it.
As an aside, this is the church outside of which is the Mouth of Truth, where tourists queue to put their hands to see if the mouth bites it off. We skipped the queue and went straight inside so I’ll never be able to see if my hand would get bitten off or not, but it’s okay because the interior was lovely.
Portable Altar of Countess Gertrude, with enclosed relics
Shortly after 1038
Germany, Lower Saxony
Gold, cloisonné enamel, porphyry, gems, pearls, niello, wood core
“According to the prescriptions of the Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicaea of 787, every consecrated altar was to contain sacred relics. The portable altar of Countess Gertrude was no exception. Of the various relics listed in the inventory of 1482, those of Sts. Hermes, Bartholomew, Vincent, Adelheid, Gertrude, Marcian, and others are still preserved today. They were wrapped in textiles, stuffed into a richly decorated silk pouch and inserted into the altar through a trap door on the altar’s underside…An accompanying cedula, or parchment strip with an identifying inscription, suggests that the bag used to contain relics of the arm of one of the Twelve Apostles, namely that of St. Bartholomew. Together with other precious relics, some of which were likewise wrapped in silk and linen textiles, the apostle’s remains (multiple fragments of soft tissue rather than bone) were found inside the portable altar of Countess Gertrude of Braunschweig in 1985, when the trap door on the reliquary’s underside was opened for the first time since the late nineteenth century. According to early Christian tradition, St. Bartholomew was flayed alive and beheaded, which may explain the presence of soft tissue (rather than bone) and its identification as the “arm” (brachium) of the apostle.”
Detail of a miniature in the upper register on the right side of the page. The Second day of Creation, with God creating the firmament in the midst of the waters.
From the Egerton Genesis Picture Book, English, 3rd quarter of the 14th century.
Miniature of the image of Christ from Veronica’s veil at the beginning of a prayer. From an English Psalter, 1st quarter of the 13th century.
The scribe and probable artist of the illuminations in this psalter was Matthew Paris, a Benedictine monk based at St. Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire. In addition to his illuminations, Matthew Paris lent his lively drawings and words to a number of books, mostly historical, albeit of varying reliability. Unlike other illuminators of the period, who remain largely anonymous, we know a great deal about Matthew Paris. We even have a self-portrait of him from his Historia Anglorum.
Despite his status as a simple monk, Matthew Paris traveled to London and Norway, and moved in high circles, enjoying friendship with Norwegian king Haakon IV and Henry III.Matthew Paris is alleged to have had a ‘censorious disposition.’ He vehemently denounced the Pope and the Roman Court, charging both with tyranny and avarice. Matthew Paris’ tendencies to exaggerate and his personal prejudices mean that his historical chronicles should be taken with a hefty grain of salt, but they are nevertheless flavorful; more readable than those of his contemporaries, and, above all, they give an excellent sense of the author and the world he lived in.
Full-page depiction of the Menorah surrounded by foliate scrolls inhabited by hybrids, at the end of the Pentateuch.
from a Pentateuch, Italian, Last quarter of the 13th century
Full-page miniature of a Gothic structure inhabited by dragons and incorporating the initial-word panel We-elleh (and these), at the beginning of Exodus. The circular form of the initial-word panel is surrounded by 16 small medallions inhabited by different kinds of animals.
From a Pentateuch (the ‘Duke of Sussex’s German Pentateuch’)
Germany, 1st quarter of the 14th century
Christ and St.John the Evangelist
Germany, Swabia, 1300-1320
Polychromed and gilded oak
This devotional image is based on the Last Supper from the Gospel of John, when the diciple “whom Jesus loved” was resting on Jesus’ shoulder. Sculptural groupings of Christ and St. John were prolific in Swabia after 1300, with at least twenty-eight extant versions. The subject appears unique to the region, and is linked to contemporary German practices of mystical contemplation. This sculpture, housed at the Cleveland Museum of Art, is one of the most beautiful examples. Only traces of the original gilding and polychrome remain, but the expressive figures convey well this quiet and touching moment. Christ’s gaze is kindly and benevolent, inviting the viewer forward, as he drapes his arm protectively around John’s shoulder, their hands delicately clasped.
Devotional images such as this—known as andachtsbilder—were, through contemplation, intended to aid the viewer in transporting the soul to God and achieving mystical union through the person of Christ. The relationship between Christ and St. John is emblematic of the relationship between Christ and the viewer. St. John’s ecstatic expression hints at the possibility of ecstatic union with the deity, achieved by the most devout mystics. This devotional image was especially popular among female worshippers. A Dominican nun, Mararet Ebner (d. 1351), recalled the following from her meditations on this subject:
"When I remembered how St. John rested on the sweet heart of my lord Jesus Christ I was moved by such a sweet grace that I could not express it in words. And when I thought on the sweet drink which he drank from the breast of Christ—I cannot put it in words—I sat still for a while in such joy and longing that I gladly would have died of love."
Additional reading: Christ and St. John the Evangelist as a Model of Medieval Mysticism, Carolyn S. Jirousek