Manuscript Cutting thumbnail 1
Manuscript Cutting thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery

Manuscript Cutting

1180-1200 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This leaf would once have been part of a Byzantine Gospel Book. The core texts of a Gospel Book were the four accounts of Christ’s life attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Since early Christian times each Gospel was traditionally preceded by a portrait of the Evangelist who wrote it. This grew out of Classical Roman texts, which were often prefaced by a portrait of the author.

In this particular portrait, a Greek inscription above the figure’s head identifies him as St Mark. Unlike many Western examples of the same subject, the Evangelist is not accompanied by his traditional symbol – a lion. He is in the process of writing his Gospel, a scroll draped over his knee and a desk in front of him displaying equipment used for writing. The variety of implements shown is specific to Byzantine author portraits.

In the nineteenth century many medieval illuminated manuscripts were cut up and their constituent leaves dispersed. Individual leaves usually fetched a higher price than bound volumes and highly decorated ones were most vulnerable to separation. This particluar leaf may have belonged to a Gospel Book now in the State Historical Museum in Moscow (MS. Sin. Gr. 41). The leaf was purchased by the V&A in 1883 from W.H.J. Weale for £3.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
watercolour with egg or gum binding and gold leaf on vellum
Brief Description
Leaf from a Gospel Book showing the seated figure of St. Mark the Evangelist with a scroll draped over his knee; 1180-1200; Byzantine; made in Constantinople (present day Istanbul)
Physical Description
Saint Mark sits on a wooden-framed, throne-like structure, a long scroll draped over his left knee. To the right is his writing desk, upon which are various writing implements. A book lies open on a lectern fixed to the top of the desk with an adjustable screw. In the left background is a building. The rest of the background comprises gold leaf which extends around the whole image, creating a border. This in turn is outlined in red ink. A Greek inscription in red ink above Saint Mark's head denotes who he is.
Dimensions
  • At highest point height: 31.3cm
  • Width: 20.5cm
Style
Marks and Inscriptions
(Inscription in Greek in red ink above the figure's head identifies him as the Evangelist St. Mark)
Gallery Label
LEAF FROM A GREEK GOSPEL BOOK About 1180-1200 St Mark is shown as a scribe, copying his Gospel from a book onto a scroll. This composition had become a standard way of representing the evangelist in both western and eastern Christianity. Byzantine Empire, Constantinople (Turkey, Istanbul) Watercolour on parchment, with burnished gold(2009)
Object history
Part of cuttings purchased in batches from William Henry James Weale in 1883, 95 on 9 April 1883, 258 on 17 April 1883, 20 on 20 February, for the total sum of £96.7.2 (now Museum nos 8972-9042).
Historical context
Gospel Books contained the full text of the Gospels – the four accounts of the life of Christ attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These texts were often accompanied by introductory material such as the Prefaces of Saint Jerome, Eusebius’s canon tables (a concordance system devised in the 4th century by Eusebius of Caesarea, in which Gospel passages are numbered – the Byzantines used letters - in the text and correspond to tables, arranged in columnar form, indicating the concordance of passages amongst the Gospels) and chapter lists.



Gospel Books survive in far larger numbers than any other type of book produced by the Byzantines. A typical Byzantine Gospel Book contained three main decorative elements: canon tables, evangelist portraits and a headpiece preceding the Gospel text. The canon tables were often richly decorated using architectural motifs such as columns and capitals. These supported canopies which themselves formed a groundline for decorative additions such as a cross or a fountain or images of humans, birds or beasts.



The opening of each of the Gospels usually occupied two facing pages of the book, with an image of the evangelist on the left and the start of the text beneath a decorative headpiece on the right. The evangelist is usually shown seated, at work on the start of his Gospel. The headpiece was usually a panel of pure ornament with the title of the book set out in decorative gold capitals above, below, or in a framed panel within it. The Gospel text followed, opening with an enlarged initial, sometimes formed of figures or even a miniature image of the evangelist.



Many medieval illuminated manuscripts were cut up in the nineteenth century and their constituent leaves dispersed - individual leaves usually fetched a higher price than bound volumes. This leaf would almost certainly once have been part of a complete Byzantine Gospel Book. In The Medieval Treasury - The Art of the Middle Ages in the Victoria and Albert Museum, edited by Paul Williamson, London, 1986, Michael Kauffmann draws attention to a Russian scholar who suggested the leaf was once part of a Gospel Book in the State Historical Museum in Moscow (MS Sin. Gr.41), which contains very similar miniatures.



See Early Christian and Byzantine Art by John Lowden, London, 1997 and Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts - A Guide to Technical Terms by Michelle P.Brown, London, 1994.
Subjects depicted
Summary
This leaf would once have been part of a Byzantine Gospel Book. The core texts of a Gospel Book were the four accounts of Christ’s life attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Since early Christian times each Gospel was traditionally preceded by a portrait of the Evangelist who wrote it. This grew out of Classical Roman texts, which were often prefaced by a portrait of the author.



In this particular portrait, a Greek inscription above the figure’s head identifies him as St Mark. Unlike many Western examples of the same subject, the Evangelist is not accompanied by his traditional symbol – a lion. He is in the process of writing his Gospel, a scroll draped over his knee and a desk in front of him displaying equipment used for writing. The variety of implements shown is specific to Byzantine author portraits.



In the nineteenth century many medieval illuminated manuscripts were cut up and their constituent leaves dispersed. Individual leaves usually fetched a higher price than bound volumes and highly decorated ones were most vulnerable to separation. This particluar leaf may have belonged to a Gospel Book now in the State Historical Museum in Moscow (MS. Sin. Gr. 41). The leaf was purchased by the V&A in 1883 from W.H.J. Weale for £3.
Bibliographic Reference
The Medieval Treasury - The Art of the Middle Ages in the Victoria and Albert Museum, edited by Paul Williamson, London, 1986, pp.158-159 and fig.14
Other Number
MS 1420 - Previous number
Collection
Accession Number
8980E

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record createdJuly 3, 2006
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