Pages from Gospel Manuscript (MS2743)
Armenian, Yerevan
Matenadaran Collection, Leningrad

From the top: Annunciation, Nativity, First page of Matthew, Letter of Eusebius to Carpianus. The Letter of Eusebius is often included with or near canon tables in Gospel manuscripts. It explains Eusebius’ canon system, which places references to the paralell Gospel texts in tables, or canons, which made it possible for the reader to easily look up concordant sections of the Gospels, while still presenting the full text of  each Gospel in their original sequence. From the letter:

And so, suppose you open one of the four gospels at some point, wishing to go to a certain chapter in order to know what gospels recount similar things and to find in each gospel the related passages in which the evangelists were led to speak about the same things. By using the reference number assigned for the section in which you are interested and looking for it within the table indicated by the red numeral below it, you will immediately discover from the titles at the head of the table how many and which gospels recount similar things.”

Canon Table from the same manuscript

Little is known about Grigor, the master behind this and other illuminated manuscripts. His expressive work is characterized by unique coloring and dark hues. 

St Agatha Holding Pincers and a Breast; St William of Norwich with Three Nails in his Head

Panel from a rood screen
Tempera on oak
Norwich, UK

The panel is painted with two full-length, nimbed figures of saints, in gold and colours. It is among the earliest examples of this form of English painting and one of the very few screens which can be dated.

According to legend, the early Christian martyr St Agatha, of whom almost nothing is known, was tortured for her faith, which resulted in her death. The torment most frequently depicted was the amputation of her breasts. She is often represented in pictures carrying them before her. Here she is shown holding one of her breasts in a pair of pincers, the instrument of her martyrdom. The existence of St William of Norwich is more historically certain. As a 12-year-old boy he was murdered in 1144 in a wood outside the city of Norwich. The Church claimed that he had been slaughtered by the Jews and canonised him.”


Pantokrator, Apse of St. Climent de Taull, c. 1123
Romanesque, from Lleida, Spain
Relocated to Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

Check out a reconstruction of the entire apse here.


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.

Fresco of Angel, 13th cent.
Saghmosavank Monastery, Armenia


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: 

  1. 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.

  2.  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.

  3. The Last Supper/Jesus Walks on Water and calls Peter

  4. 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

Unknown Artist
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.

(via chrysostmom)

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.

Bust Reliquary of St. Louis, Bishop of Toulouse, late 1300s
Italy, Tuscany (Siena?)

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.