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Article

John Lowden

Byzantine illuminated manuscript (Moscow, Hist. Mus. MS. D.29). It is a small Marginal Psalter (195×150 mm) of 169 folios, in which broad spaces were left blank on the outer edges of the pages to be filled with numerous unframed illustrations, glossing the biblical text in various ways (see Early Christian and Byzantine art, §V, 2, (iv), (f)). The original text and captions to the illustrations were elegantly written in a small uncial script around the mid-9th century ad. In the 12th century, however, most of the text was crudely overwritten in minuscule, giving the book a messy appearance. This evidence of continued use over a long period is also reflected in the state of the miniatures, many of which are heavily worn and flaked, yet the manuscript is still more complete than two other roughly contemporary Psalters (Paris, Bib. N., MS. grec 20; Mt Athos, Pantokrator Monastery, MS. 61)....

Article

G. van Hemeldonck

Monumental structure of wood, stone, or metal consisting of four or more columns supporting an ornamented roof; this is sometimes a cupola, as in the Byzantine tradition, or it may be pyramidal or a crossover pitched roof. The term is often used synonymously with baldacchino, although, strictly speaking, a ciborium is fixed, frequently on a raised base, while a baldacchino is movable (the most famous example—the Baldacchino built by Gianlorenzo Bernini and others in St Peter’s, Rome, in 1623–34 (see §2, (ii) below)—is in fact a fixed ciborium). Ciboria in a church were placed above altars and tabernacles portraying the throne of Christ, above the ambo where the Gospel was promulgated and above baptismal fonts and atrium springs where holy water was revered. Much later they were also placed above reliquaries and martyrs’ graves and, outside the church, above thrones, statues of the saints and above the cross of Golgotha. The purpose of the ciborium was to concentrate attention on the object of veneration or to protect this object either symbolically or actually. Small portable altars were sometimes placed under a ciborium of this type. Reigning monarchs were portrayed enthroned under a ciborium; this was intended to suggest that their secular power was received from God....

Article

Icon  

Richard Temple

[Gr. eikon: ‘image’]

Wooden panel with a painting, usually in tempera, of a holy person or one of the traditional images of Orthodox Christianity (see fig.), the religion of the Byzantine empire practised today mainly in Greece and Russia (see Early Christian and Byzantine art, §VI, and Post-Byzantine art, §II, 1). The word also has a range of related but disparate meanings, from the abstract and philosophical to the purely literal. For example, it is still used in modern Greek to mean an image or picture in the ordinary sense. In antiquity, Platonists and Neo-Platonists held that the material, earthly world reflects, or is the image of, the higher and divine cosmos; the Old Testament provides the theme of man as the icon of God in the temple of the world; and St Paul declared that ‘Christ is the icon of God’ (2 Corinthians 4:4). Thus the idea of the icon is associated with cosmology and the theology of the Incarnation. In the Early Christian period, disputes over such questions as whether or not God can be known or depicted or the invisible can be seen were part of an intense debate surrounding the acceptability, meaning and function of images of Christ. All this was bound up with the complex questions of Christology that exercised the best minds of the period. Whole communities and nations were divided into Orthodox and heretics over the problem of defining the two natures of Christ, the relationship between his humanity and his divinity. The theory and belief system of icons was developed by theologians between the 4th and the 9th centuries, though only a few icons survive from then and up to the 12th century. Once established, however, the doctrinal principles never changed, and the study of icons is as much a matter of theology as of art. Subject-matter, form and composition did not deviate from the established dogma on which they depended; indeed, icons have been called theology in colour (Trubetskoy)....

Article

Oxana Cleminson

Decorative metalwork cover for a Christian icon. The icon cover developed from the ornamental metal plates and silver embossed icons known to have decorated Early Christian altar screens (see Screen, §2). Its appearance and form resulted from a new understanding of the icon and its place in the Orthodox liturgy (see Early Christian and Byzantine art, §VI, 1), and the silver cover is of particular importance in the Eastern Church. There are three major types of icon cover: those that entirely conceal the painted icon, those that leave the faces, hands and feet of the figures exposed and those that cover only the background and margins of the icon. The first two types of silver cover have a symbolic and eucharistic significance similar to that of the ciborium (see Ciborium) in which the consecrated elements are kept: they not only have a decorative function, but also serve a ritual purpose as sacred covers. Some icon covers also contained relics, such as that of the 11th–12th-century ...

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Psalter  

Lucy Freeman Sandler

Book containing the 150 psalms of the Old Testament. This article is concerned with manuscript Psalters used in the Western Church; for those used in the Orthodox Church see Early Christian and Byzantine art, §V, 2. The Psalter is usually divided into sections to be recited daily at Matins and Sunday Vespers and hence is a liturgical book used by the clergy in the Divine Office (forming the basis for the Breviary), or by the laity for private devotions. In addition to the psalms, Psalters generally contain an ecclesiastical Calendar, canticles, creeds, and the litany of the saints; the calendar and litany frequently provide evidence of the intended destination of a Psalter. Traditionally attributed to King David and his court musicians, the psalms are hymns in praise of God and pleas for his help and mercy. With the advent of Christianity, the psalms were interpreted in specifically Christian terms: the Lord of the Old Testament was understood as Christ the Messiah, and many passages of individual psalms were seen as Christian metaphors and prefigurations. The Hebrew text of the psalms reached the Latin West via the translations made by St Jerome in the 4th century AD, two from the Greek version (the Septuagint) and one directly from the original language. The three versions, known respectively as the Roman, Gallican, and Hebrew Psalters, differ in the numbering of the psalms (the Gallican will be followed here), and there are also many important textual differences. In the West, the Gallican translation became the standard text. Some Psalters, even illustrated examples such as the ...

Article

Sarah Morgan

Type of structure, usually associated with the Early Christian and Eastern Churches, that is found where volcanic rock is soft enough to carve or where natural caves occur. This includes parts of southern Italy (e.g. Basilicata and Apulia), Greece (e.g. Meteora), Turkey (e.g. Cappadocia; see Cappadocia §2, (i), (a); and Beşparmak), Cyprus (St Neophytos Monastery), Ethiopia (e.g. Lalibela), Georgia (David Garedzhi), Romania (Basarabi-Murfatlar), Bulgaria (e.g. Ivanovo), and the Crimea (near Chersonesos). The churches and dwelling places created in these areas survive in a variety of forms: part-natural cave, part-built, or wholly carved from the rock, with some churches so carefully shaped and finished as to resemble built architecture. From the Early Christian period caves and rock-cut dwellings were popular with hermits and saints as retreats. In some cases communities formed around a saintly figure, and monasteries were established with living spaces, refectories, chapels, and occasionally a larger congregational church. Several texts of saints’ lives, such as that of ...

Article

Leslie Ross

Writings, often of a legendary nature, intended to honour the saints. These have inspired copious literary and artistic productions since the Early Christian period, when churches, shrines and martyria dedicated to saints became popular sites of pilgrimage. Although little evidence survives for the decoration of these monuments, it is clear that early picture cycles existed, depicting the honoured saints and/or episodes from their lives: S Paolo fuori le Mura in Rome appears to have contained a 5th-century fresco cycle with hagiographic scenes; episodes from the Passions of SS Peter and Paul appear on Early Christian sarcophagi and images of saints and apostles are found in catacomb paintings. Also from this period are the first lists of saints, a form of commemoration that developed into the manuscript type known as the Martyrology (an abbreviated listing of saints in order of their feast days). The writing of saintly ‘biography’, or hagiography, provided more information about the commemorated saint, whether apostle, martyr, confessor, virgin or hermit. This could take the form of a ...

Article

Elizabeth Struthers Malbon

Early Christian carved stone Sarcophagus (Rome, Vatican, Mus. Stor. A. Tesoro S Pietro) of Roman city prefect Junius Bassus who, according to an inscription on the sarcophagus, was ‘neofitus’ (newly baptized) at his death in 359. It was originally placed near the tomb of St Peter and discovered in 1597.

This double-register, columnar sarcophagus of white marble (2.4×1.4×1.0 m) is carved with ten intercolumnar façade scenes of biblical characters in the ‘fine style’ and five spandrel scenes of biblical characters personified by lambs, with shallowly carved double-register harvest and season scenes on the two ends. The now-fragmented lid contains the remains of a verse inscription and two scenes, the most complete of which represents a funerary meal. Thus the Junius Bassus sarcophagus, one of only two extant double-register columnar Early Christian sarcophagi, presents a distinctive combination of carving styles and both Christian and Roman iconography.

The façade scenes on the upper register (under a level entablature) are: ...

Article

William M. Voelkle

Portable altar–reliquary (New York, Morgan Lib.), made c. 1156 for the Stavelot Abbey in the Ardennes, Belgium and decorated with both Mosan and Byzantine enamels (see fig.). The reliquary is named after the Benedictine abbey headed by Wibald of Stavelot, its enlightened abbot from 1130 to 1158. It is the first of a series of Mosan reliquary triptychs containing portions of the True Cross. Of these, only the Stavelot Triptych contains scenes from the life of Constantine and the legend of the finding of the True Cross by Empress Helena, his mother. Although two commissions by Wibald are documented (the St Remaclus Retable, destroyed during the French Revolution, and the Head Reliquary of Pope Alexander of 1145; Brussels, Musées Royaux A. & Hist.), the Stavelot Triptych is not. Wibald may have been given both the cross relic and the two small Byzantine enamel triptychs displayed on the centre panel of the Stavelot Triptych during his diplomatic mission (...