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Menologion of BasilIIlocked

  • John Lowden

Byzantine illuminated calendar manuscript (Rome, Vatican, Bib. Apostolica, MS. Vat. gr. 1613) of 439 pages (363×287 mm). It covers the first half of the administrative year (1 Sept–28 Feb) and contains up to eight commemorations for each day. It is presumed to be the surviving first volume of a two-volume set and, according to the dedicatory poem on p. XIII, was made for Emperor Basil II (reg 976–1025). It is organized as a picture book, with each page divided horizontally in half for a miniature and its accompanying 16-line text. The 430 miniatures alternate between the upper and lower halves of the page, and include scenes from the Life of Christ (e.g. Nativity, Baptism), as well as standing saints, numerous scenes of martyrdom, and more unusual events, such as the discovery of relics.

There are some peculiar features about the book. On 15 pages the illuminations lack any accompanying text, indicating that, contrary to normal practice, the illustrations were supplied first. Eight different names (e.g. Pantoleon) are found beside the illuminations. On the first occurrence each name is qualified as ‘[A work] by the painter …’. I. Ševčenko has shown that the puzzling distribution of names corresponds to the principle of one artist per sheet of parchment. Though not signatures, for all were written by the same scribe, the names could record, or at least were intended to suggest, that several hands were at work. Yet such is the manuscript’s overall homogeneity that its artists (if the ‘signatures’ are to be believed) were supremely skilful in reproducing a common style.

The Menologion contains the largest body of visual material for the study of the Byzantine religious calendar. It is also important for its relation to the ten-volume sets of illustrated saints’ lives known as the Metaphrastian Menologion (or Menologion of Symeon Metaphrastes). This vast work was first assembled in the mid-10th century and was produced in surprisingly large numbers, notably in the second half of the 11th century. These manuscripts have many fewer commemorations than the Menologion of Basil II, and much longer texts, but some of the images are closely related.

Bibliography

  • Menologion of Basil II (late 10th century; Rome, Vatican, Bib. Apostolica, MS. Vat. gr. 1613); facs., Codices e Vaticanis selecti phototypice expressi, vii (Turin, 1907)
  • I. Ševčenko: ‘The Illuminators of the Menologium of Basil II’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 16 (1962), pp. 244–70
  • N. P. Ševčenko: Illustrated Manuscripts of the Metaphrastian Menologion (Chicago, 1990)