Codex Purpureus Rossanensis

Alternate Titles:

Rossano Gospels, Rossano-Evangeliar

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Alternate Titles

Rossano Gospels

Extent / Format

386 pages / 30.7 x 26.0 cm

6th century

15 illuminated pages with gold ornaments

Short description

Purple-dyed vellum provided scribes and illuminators with the opportunity to make use of unusual color palettes that emphasized the sumptuous and expensive nature of such materials. Bright colors, even pastels, as well as gold and silver contrast particularly well with the purple backgrounds. These manuscripts were usually the result of imperial commissions, hence the use of imperial purple. The Codex Purpureus Rossanensis is one of the three oldest purple manuscripts to survive today and dates from the 6th century. It is a priceless specimen of 6th century Byzantine art and marks a period of stylistic transition from classical to more abstract forms of representation. The text is beautifully and uniformly written in gold and silver ink and the manuscript additionally features 15 full-page miniatures, and more.

Facsimile editions available


A Purple Byzantine Evangeliary in Gold and Silver

The Codex Purpureus Rossanensis or Rossano Gospels, created nearly 1500 years ago, is arguably one of the most valuable and fascinating manuscripts in the world for a variety of reasons, the most astounding of which is that it is one of three of the oldest purpureus illustrated manuscripts in the world. It enraptures the viewer with 15 pages of perfectly designed miniatures which constitute an invaluable and irreplaceable testimony to Byzantine art during the 6th century. Its appearance expresses a purely regal air and the well-known purple dyed parchment sheets found within have made this manuscript famous worldwide. The Greek text stretches over 386 pages and is written in silver and golden majuscules throughout. Unfortunately the manuscript is today incomplete, as half of its original 800 pages have been lost over the ages. The current version encompasses the complete Gospel of Saint Matthew and almost the entire Gospel of Saint Mark.

15 Rare Miniatures

The significance of this book is further strengthened by the fact that only a few of the purple parchment codices created during the Late Classic Period were illustrated with miniatures. Some of the luxurious miniatures painted by the most talented artists of the time cover entire pages while others are set above or between flowing text creating a frieze-like style. Both theme and presentation style are based on earlier models, most likely monumental wall paintings. The miniatures are said to be the finest examples of early Byzantine art preserved to this day.

The Oldest Picture of an Evangelist in the History of Illumination

The author’s portrait of Saint Mark is of particular interest is, as it constitutes the oldest representation of an Evangelist in the history of illumination. The Codex Rossanensis stands apart from older manuscripts of the same kind due to its novel and peculiar stylistic design. The miniatures manifest a strong inclination toward Byzantine art and fascinate the viewer due to their representative and monumental expression. In our codex, the classical way of painting was abandoned for the first time and a new step was taken forward toward a more abstract early Byzantine art. This makes the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis ** one of the most significant documents of Eastern illumination**.

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