Menologion - Book of Saints of Emperor Vasilios II

Menologion - Book of Saints of Emperor Vasilios II

Istanbul (Turkey) — Late 10th century or early 11th century

Byzantine illumination commissioned by the Emperor: the lives of saints in 400+ golden miniatures

  1. A primary work of Byzantine illumination marks a period of their military, economic, and artistic resurgence

  2. Vasilios II (958–1015) was the Byzantine Emperor for nearly 50 years and a great patron of art and culture

  3. No less than 430 expressive, gold-backed miniatures of the saints' lives were created by 8 different masters

Menologion - Book of Saints of Emperor Vasilios II

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
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 manuscript 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!

Menologion - Book of Saints of Emperor Vasilios II

The famous Menologion of Emperor Vasilios IIis 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), known in English as Basil II, one of the most significant Byzantine monarchs, and the longest-reigning. 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 manuscript’s outstanding significance!

Codicology

Alternative Titles
El Menologio de Basilio II
Menologion of Basil II
Menologion - Heiligenbuch von Kasier Basileios II.
Size / Format
434 pages / 37.5 × 32.2 cm
Origin
Turkey
Date
Late 10th century or early 11th century
Style
Illustrations
430 miniatures with burnished gold backgrounds
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Menologion - Book of Saints of Emperor Vasilios II – Vat. Gr. 1613 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
Testimonio Compañía Editorial – Madrid, 2005
Detail Picture

Menologion - Book of Saints of Emperor Vasilios II

Martyrdom of Saint Peter

The Pope is referred to as the “heir of St. Peter”, an Apostle who was martyred in Rome in the year 64, which is illustrated here. Sentenced to crucifixion, he requested only that this was done with his head downward because he felt unworthy to die in the same way as Christ. The cause of his martyrdom is debated: some claim that it was part of recriminations by the Emperor Nero against Christians who were blamed for the Great Fire of Rome, others that it was simply because of Peter’s faith.

El Menologio de Basilio II
Single Page

Menologion - Book of Saints of Emperor Vasilios II

Second Council of Nicaea

A menologion is an Eastern Orthodox collection of saints’ lives, but this particular codex is special because it also includes episodes from the Old and New Testaments as well as historical events like the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. The seventh ecumenical council held by Eastern Orthodox and Catholic clergy confirmed the veneration of icons but forbade their worship.

Set against a brilliantly burnished gold background, this three dimensional depiction is remarkable for the meaningful expressions of the figures. Emperor Constantine VI is depicted crowned, enthroned, and flanked by six high-ranking clerics holding manuscripts with luxury bindings. An iconoclast cleric prostrates himself before them to recant his now-heretical beliefs.

El Menologio de Basilio II
Facsimile Editions

#1 El Menologio de Basilio II

Menologion - Book of Saints of Emperor Vasilios II – Vat. Gr. 1613 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
Menologion - Book of Saints of Emperor Vasilios II – Vat. Gr. 1613 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: Testimonio Compañía Editorial – Madrid, 2005
Binding: Faithful reproduction of the original binding in maroon velvet with silver hardware
Commentary: 1 volume (380 pages) by Francesco D'Aiuto
Language: Spanish
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€€€ (7,000€ - 10,000€)
Edition available
Price: Login here!
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