Exultet Roll

Cod. Vat. lat. 9820 - Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)

Alternate Titles:

Exultet Rolle

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Exultet Rolle

Type
Extent / Format

1 roll / 708.0 x 27.0 cm

Origin
Date
981-987
Style
Genre
Language
Illustrations

14 miniatures with ornamental stripes, several great initial letters

Short description

Although scrolls were the prefered book form during antiquity, beginning in the 4th century, the codex triumphed and slowly but steadily replaced the scroll. Even though early Christians prefered the codex, they continued to be portrayed in art with scrolls in order to maintain the connection to antiquity. The Exultet Scroll was used in Latin liturgy on the eve of Easter, and the Vatican manuscript constitutes the oldest surviving Exultet Scroll in the world and was made in the southern Italian city of Benevento, a cultural center in the early Middle Ages. The Exultet Scroll comprises both text and melody, as well as a picture cycle illustrating the song and Neume notation. The work is a true synthesis of eastern, western, classical, and Christian motifs and reflects the tremendous skill and imagination of the artists who worked on them.

Facsimile editions available

Description

The Oldest Example of this Book Type

The Exultet Scroll was used in Latin liturgy on the eve of Easter, when the deacon dressed in white sang the "Exultet" from it (named after the "incipit exultet iam angelica turba caelorum" … "now the heavenly crowd of angels shout for joy"). The Vatican manuscript constitutes the oldest surviving Exultet Scroll in the world and was made in the southern Italian city of Benevento, a cultural center in the early Middle Ages. The Exultet Scroll comprises both text and melody, as well as a picture cycle illustrating the song. These pictures and their wealth of styles bear splendid testimony to the creative power and great tradition of the schools of Benevento. The artists stand out from many others due to their high technical ability and skill. as well as their imaginative eclecticism. They arranged stylistic, decorative, and iconographic elements in order to form an ensemble, using elements which are rooted both in classical antiquity and in Christian sources, integrating not only indigenous but also eastern and western motifs.

The Scroll: the First Book Form

As we know from many testimonies in art and literature, scrolls were used throughout antiquity instead of the bound book. Beginning in the 4th century, the codex triumphed and slowly but steadily replaced the scroll. In Christian literature, however, the codex was the preferred form right from the beginning. The scroll, in contrast, was only present following classical models, for the depiction of apostles, evangelists, prophets and saints. In liturgy, the scroll had not fallen into complete oblivion, as we learn from the Exultet Scroll inter alia. The reason might be the influence of Byzantium, as the Greek oriental Church had always been familiar with the scroll. As southern Italy and particularly Benevento were in regular contact with Byzantium on political and cultural levels, a certain inspiration to this effect seems possible. This development, however, remained limited to the region of Benevento where one appreciated the advantages of the scroll. By unrolling it in front of a wide public, everyone could clearly see in picture what was announced, in a poetic wording and an artfully composed melody, as the highlight of the liturgy on the eve of Easter.

The Adornment

The melody appears in Neume notation above each line of the sacred text, to guide the deacon in his song of praise. The images are artful pen drawings colored by one master in a multitude of colors and glittering gold. They show great love of detail and are surrounded throughout by decorative frames. Numerous motifs, such as jewels, pearls, interlace, palmettes, rosettes, and arcades imaginatively enliven the solemn system of frames.

Documenting the Early Medieval Easter Ceremony

The pictures accompanying the Exultet illustrate the song text according to the symbolical and metaphorical tradition of early Christendom. Some depictions display the Christian interpretation of pagan rites, for example when the resurrection of Christ in the annual Easter feast is associated with the coming of new life on earth thanks to Sol, the pagan God of the Sun. Nature celebrates the resurrection together with Jesus who is depicted in a splendid bright gloriole representing the light of the world, the sun of resurrection and salvation. Some pictures present a lively impression of the liturgical proceedings, reproducing it in complete detail. The Exultet Scroll is thus of essential importance for the history of liturgy and dogma, not the least for the documentary value of its illustrations.

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