Lectionary of St Petersburg

Codex gr. 21, 21a - National Library of Russia (St. Petersburg, Russia)

Alternate Titles:

Lektionar von St. Petersburg

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Lektionar von St. Petersburg

Type
Extent / Format

30 pages / 33.3 x 25.5 cm

Origin
Date
2nd half of the 10th century
Style
Genre
Language
Illustrations

13 mostly full-page miniatures, 3 fragments of miniatures, 3 elaborated initials

Former owners

Alexander II, Tsar of Russia

Short description

A truly beautiful Byzantine manuscript with a long and fascinating story: the Gospel Lectionary of Saint Petersburg. It is a mysterious manuscript with an eventful history which was long kept in Trebizond, at the intersection between two cultures on the rims of the Black Sea, the Byzantine and the Ottoman, through the troubled ages of the crusades and Ottoman conquests. The artistic style of the manuscript, employing typical Byzantine elements such as burnished gold backgrounds, displays both clear oriental influences and a strong tendency toward classicism. This 10th century manuscript was used continuously for centuries and as such, was badly worn before its restoration with many miniatures being nearly unrecognizable, but is now restored to its former glory.

Facsimile editions available

Description

A Golden Jewel of Byzantine Art

The Gospel Lectionary of Saint Petersburg, also called the Gospel Lectionary of Trebizond, is considered a true jewel of Byzantine art. It is a mysterious manuscript with an eventful history which was long kept in Trebizond, at the intersection between two cultures on the rims of the Black Sea, the Byzantine and the Ottoman, through the troubled ages of the crusades and Ottoman conquests. The "Golden Gospels", as it was also called for its rich gold embellishment, dates back to the 2nd half of the 10th century. Commissioned by an unknown patron, the rich use of gold and high-end craftsmanship indicate that it was made for a high ranking personality. In 1223, it was presented as a votive gift to the Virgin Mary by Andronikos Gidon in a cathedral which bore the name Gold-Headed Virgin, where it formed an integral part of Orthodox liturgy until the middle of the 15th century. The Gospel lectionary is valued above all for the great artistic quality of its miniatures. They are dispersed over nearly all the pages of the codex and illustrate individual episodes of the Gospels. The text, however, is written in Greek and is deserving great attention, as it is very old and grammatically astonishingly exact.

A Precious Treasure of Byzantine Art

The manuscript contains a total of 16 miniatures painted throughout in tempera on a golden ground to enhance their luminosity. The decorative apparatus is the work of several painters and displays both clear oriental influences and a strong tendency toward classicism. In line with the tradition of book illumination in the 10th century, the decoration contains a portrait of John the Evangelist in the classical style: John is presented as a classical philosopher, wearing a toga, and holding a scroll in his hands (folio 1r). The text is written in pale blue ink in liturgical uncial, a form of majuscule used in the 10th century. Some initials are especially highlighted through clear enlargement and the use of gold, cinnabar, blue and green. Neume notation was added at a later stage in a bright red colour. As the Gospel Lectionary was used in liturgy over long periods of time, it was until recently in a very bad state of preservation. The colours and the gold leaf of the grounds had peeled off in many places. A number of miniatures were almost entirely destroyed. The viewer can now admire this masterly work of art in its original state following its successful restoration.

A Profound Testimony to the Mysteries and Aesthetics of the Orthodox Church

The preserved text fragments of the Gospel Lectionary and the contents of the miniatures allow it to be ascribed to the tradition of typographic Gospel Lectionaries, which** contained readings from the Gospels for each day, from Passion week and Easter down to Pentecost**. The book contains only Saturday and Sunday readings for all other weeks of the ecclesiastical year. In 1858, the precious Gospel Lectionary was presented to the Russian Tsar Alexander II as an aid for the construction of a church and thus moved to the collection of Greek manuscripts in the Imperial Library. The director of the library at the time proudly stated that "the Greek Gospels [takes] the most important place among the recent acquisitions of our library in the year 1858". The fragments from Trebizond were withdrawn from the Gospel Lectionary to which they formerly belonged and finally bound separately. They have been kept in this leather binding ever since.

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