Menologion - Book of Saints of Emperor Vasilios II

Vat. Gr. 1613 - Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)

Alternate Titles:

El Menologio de Basilio II, Menologion of Basil II, Menologion - Heiligenbuch von Kasier Basileios II.

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

El Menologio de Basilio II
Menologion of Basil II
Menologion - Heiligenbuch von Kasier Basileios II.

Type
Extent / Format

434 pages / 37.5 x 32.2 cm

Origin
Date
Late 10th century or early 11th century
Style
Genre
Language
Patron

Basilio II (976 - 1025)

Artist / School

Pantoleon
Georgios
Michael the Younger
Michael of Vlachernae
Simeon
Simeon of Vlachernae
Menas
Nestor

Illustrations

430 miniatures on golden ground

Short description

The famous Menologion of Emperor Vasilios II is counted among the primary works of Byzantine illumination. Originating from around the year 1000, the manuscript contains expositions on the lives of saints in the course of the church year September to February. This martyrology was decorated with splendid and exceptionally high-quality miniatures concerning the lives of individual saints, but also historical and biblical events. What is additionally unique is the fact the miniaturists who contributed to the Menologion are identified by name! The Menologion of Emperor Vasilios II is of unfathomable worth both historically and artistically and offers the marvelous opportunity to engage with this great epoch of illumination!

Facsimile editions available

Description

Menologion - Book of Saints of Emperor Vasilios II

The famous Menologion of Emperor Vasilios II is counted among the primary works of Byzantine illumination. Originating from around the year 1000, the manuscript contains expositions on the lives of saints in the course of the church year September to February. This martyrology was decorated with splendid and exceptionally high-quality miniatures concerning the lives of individual saints, but also historical and biblical events. What is additionally unique is the fact the miniaturists who contributed to the Menologion are identified by name! The Menologion of Emperor Vasilios II is of unfathomable worth both historically and artistically and offers the marvelous opportunity to engage with this great epoch of illumination!

A Commission of the Byzantine Emperor

Codex Vat. Gr. 1613 of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana probably originated from Constantinople around the turn of the 11th century. It is considered to be one of the primary works of Byzantine illumination. The important patron of the manuscript was Emperor Vasilios II (976-1025), a significant Byzantine monarch. The term Menologion indicates a collection of saints’ vitae, which are listed according to the succession of holidays in the church year. In the Menologion of Emperor Vasilios II, also known as the Book of Saints, there are short explanations of the lives of the saints and martyrs. The 16 lines of text dedicated to each page could be read on the respective saint’s day of remembrance. The saints in the Byzantine calendar year from September to February are listed in the famous Menologion of Emperor Vasilios II. The other half of the year was presumably dealt with in another volume that no longer exists.

Saints Lives on a Gold Background

The Menologion of Emperor Vasilios II assembles 430 miniatures on 434 pages measuring 37.5 x 32.3 cm. Every single page is illuminated! These stylistically outstanding miniatures are applied against a gold background, which also increases the worth and splendor of the manuscript. The depictions in the upper-half of the image on each page present themselves as illustrations of one or more saints. Thus one finds scenes of martyrdom, but also of miracles or other hagiographic legends in the miniatures. The illumination distinguishes itself through its particularly vivid and natural style. Themes of the miniatures, aside from the lives of saints, also include biblical episodes from the Old and New Testaments (e.g. a cycle from the life of Christ) and historical events such as the Council of Nicaea or the struggle of the Byzantines against the Bulgarians. Depth and three-dimensionality in the depiction of landscapes and architecture, as well as the complicated gestures and meaningful expressions of the figures are a clear sign of the outstanding quality of the miniatures!

No Nameless Master

An additional idiosyncrasy of the Menologion of Emperor Vasilios II can be found amidst all of this marvelous visual adornment. The painters of the miniatures are listed by name, which is exceptional – a unique fact for a Byzantine manuscript! A total of eight artists participated and can be differentiated from one another with the aid of the inscriptions on the margin of each of the miniatures: Pantoleon (probably the master of the group and an important miniaturist of his time), Georgios, Michael the Younger, Michael of Blachernae, Simeon, Simeon of Blachernae, Menas, and Nestor. This detail lends an additional aspect to the Menologion’s outstanding significance!

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