The Byzantine illuminated manuscripts
// by Panos Vassiliou
East meets West. Byzantine art –mostly a religious art- is the result of a cross-fertilization of ideas that led to a resurgence in creative thinking and aesthetic stimulation. The two basic sources from which it is derived are the Hellenistic and Eastern art. The former, a representational art, is more anthropocentric, whereas the latter is relatively non-figural, decorative in character, lavish in design and dazzling in color.
In the representation of the human form it is the influence of antiquity, the hellenistic style, which is preeminent, whereas that of the East predominates in the decorative features (fig.2).
The aim of the Byzantine art was not purely aesthetics, but rather to induce spiritual contemplation and bring the faithful closer to God.
The styles and forms that predominate the Byzantine decorations are the following:
1. Geometric. They derive from ancient Greek motifs on vases, as well as arabesque ornaments, which either combined or separate, are used as bands on wall paintings and for headpieces in manuscripts (fig.3).
2. Flowers, birds and animal designs (fig.4).
The majority of Byzantine art is represented with wall paintings, mosaics, iconography and illuminated manuscripts. These manuscripts are the major source of the Byzantine civilization in all its aspects. They are mostly Greek but there are also several in Latin, Arabic, Armenian and Russian. Their craftmanship is superlative. They are embellished with unparalleled decorations such as initials, borders and miniature illustrations, using rich colours on glittering surfaces.
They are illustrated in three different ways:
1. with decorative headpieces at the opening of a page, often accompanied by a decorated initial (fig.5).
2. with figures, scenes and decorations disposed vertically and horizontally over text (fig.6).
3. with full-page illuminations (fig.7).
Byzantine manuscripts is a form of artistic expression with great interest to scholars, designers, architects, artists, researchers and students. Unfortunately, these historic treasures were kept from the public eye for centuries.
The centers of the Byzantine culture were conquered by the Turks and destroyed, but several of them, such as the monasteries of Mt. Athos, Meteora and Patmos in Greece, managed to survive and keep their libraries intact but far from the interested individuals.
Recently, an unprecedented series of ornaments and borders were revived -based on these originals- and are available in a layered outline font format. You may view samples here.
Ornamental Treasures 1
Ornamental Treasures 2
Ornamental Treasures 3
Grabar A. “La peinture Byzantine” Geneva 1953
Ebersolt J. “La miniature Byzantine” Paris 1926
Museum of Byzantine Culture “The treasures of Mt Athos”