Rabbula Gospels

Rabbula Gospels – Urs Graf Verlag – Plut. I, 56 – Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (Florence, Italy)

Monastery of St. John of Zagba (Syria) β€” 586

Contains the oldest surviving illumination of the Crucifixion: the Byzantine Gospel Book completed in 586 by the scribe Rabbula and magnificently illuminated with seven full-page miniatures and beautiful canon tables

  1. The codex is one of the earliest Christian manuscripts to be furnished with large miniatures

  2. Its 7 full-page miniatures are notable for their bright colors, dynamism, drama, and expressiveness

  3. Originating from modern Syria, it is one of the finest Byzantine manuscripts produced in Asia

Rabbula Gospels

Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€
(3,000€ - 7,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Rabbula Gospels

Completed in 586, the Rabbula Gospels is simultaneously one of the finest Byzantine manuscripts produced in Asia as well as one of the earliest Christian manuscripts to be furnished with large miniatures, which are distinguished by their bright colors, dynamism, drama, and expressiveness. Elaborate floral and architectural motifs frame the miniatures, which include the oldest surviving depiction of the Crucifixion found in a manuscript and shows the contemporary Eastern form of the image. The Syriac manuscript was produced in the scriptorium of the Monastery of St. John of Zagba in modern day Syria and is one of the few specimens to survive the destruction of countless Byzantine manuscripts and works of art during the Iconoclasm of the 8th and 9th centuries. This precious artifact is named after the scribe Rabbula, who signed his name in the manuscript and about whom nothing else in known. Parts of the manuscript were overpainted by restorers and miniatures from other works were added in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Rabbula Gospels

This famous 6th century manuscript is distinguished by its age, rarity, and the art-historical significance of its miniatures, which are clearly the work of an experienced artist. Its text consists of the Peshitta version of the Syriac translation of the Gospels, which is written in two columns using dark brown, black, and red ink. Seven full-page miniatures illustrating the text are brightly colored, dynamic, dramatic, and expressive. They represent rare and precious artifacts of Byzantine art that managed to survive destruction at the hands of Iconoclasts and provide an example of Late Antique art from the Eastern Mediterranean. Finally, the codex also served as a register of the Maronite patriarchs of Antioch during the Middle Ages. The Rabbula Gospels thus represents a true β€œtriple threat” for bibliophiles.

A Mix of Artistic Traditions

Aside from being one of the finest Byzantine manuscripts originating in Asia, the manuscript is significant for being one of the first to be furnished with large miniatures. They are the work of an anonymous professional artist trained in the classical illusionist tradition who also borrowed from Hellenistic art, especially the draped figures, as well as Persian artistic traditions. Some miniatures are framed by elaborate floral and architectural motifs, others by colorful patterns including zigzags, curves, and rainbows. Its canon tables are presented in arcades with flowers, birds, animals, and marginal miniatures of biblical scenes. The Crucifixion miniature is the oldest found in an illuminated manuscript and is an example of the Eastern archetype of the image. It also features an extremely rare miniature of the Apostles choosing a new member to replace Judas, a scene not founded in the Gospels but mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. These images are treasured by art historians as rare examples of the style and iconography of the period.

History of the Manuscript

Signed by the anonymous scribe Rabbula, the Gospel Book is believed to have been made in the Monastery of St. John of Zagba and completed in the year 586. Its original size is not known because it was trimmed when it was rebound several times over the centuries, but the folios currently measure 34 x 27 cm. The fate of the manuscript between the 6th and 11th centuries is not known, including how and why it survived the Iconoclasm when so many other illuminated manuscripts did not. It was recorded as being in Maipuc-Byblos, Lebanon in the 11th century before coming to Quannubin in the Kadisha Valley around the turn of the 14th century. The Maronite Patriarch brought the manuscript to its current repository, the Laurentian Library in Florence, in the late-15th or early-16th century. Recent scholarship suggests that the text and miniatures were originally separate volumes that were bound together in the 15th century.


Alternative Titles
Rabbula Evangeliar
Rabula Evangeliar
Rabula Gospels
Evangeliarii syriaci, vulgo Rabbulae
Size / Format
586 pages / 33.8 Γ— 27.9 cm
7 full-page miniatures and 19 illuminated canon tables
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Rabbula Gospels – Urs Graf Verlag – Plut. I, 56 – Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (Florence, Italy)
Urs Graf – Olten, 1959
Detail Picture

Rabbula Gospels

Moses Receives the 10 Commandments

This Old Testament depiction belongs to one of the beautifully illuminated canon tables of the Gospel Book, all of which are decorated with small marginal scenes. After Moses liberated the Israelites from Egypt, they came to the Sinai desert. They camped at Mount Sinai, but God forbade them to tread on it. On the third day, God came down on the mountain with thunder, lightning and fire, indicated by small flames in the green ground, and called Moses to Himself. On the summit both held converse and God handed over to Moses out of a cloud the tablets of the law with the Ten Commandments - here represented as a hand coming out of a blue sphere.

Rabbula Gospels – Urs Graf Verlag – Plut. I, 56 – Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (Florence, Italy)
Single Page

Rabbula Gospels

Crucifixion, Women at the Tomb and Noli Me Tangere

The upper register of this mosaic-framed picture page shows one of the oldest depictions of the Crucifixion in Christian art. The center of the miniature is Christ on the cross, wrapped in an incomplete purple robe with golden stripes that set him apart from the two half-naked thieves on the left and right. While a soldier in a red tunic stabs his lance into his side, another offers him a sponge soaked in vinegar. At the foot of the cross, three more soldiers dice around the purple mantle of Christ. The action is watched in dismay by three mourning women on the right and the grieving Virgin Mary and John on the left. The sun and moon at the top of the painting, however, simultaneously glorify Christ and point to the universal significance of his sacrificial death.

The lower register shows three subsequent scenes surrounding Christ's empty tomb. Red rays erupt from the gorgeous mausoleum, blinding the three guards and knocking them to the ground. Here a conception of Christ's Resurrection, for which there are no eyewitnesses in the Bible, is carried into the image. Then, on the left, Mary and Mary Magdalene come to the empty tomb with ointment jars, where an angel is already waiting for them to announce the incredible message. On the right they meet Jesus, who commands them with his saying "Noli me tangere" not to touch him or to hold him but to let him go.

Rabbula Gospels – Urs Graf Verlag – Plut. I, 56 – Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (Florence, Italy)
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Rabbula Gospels

Urs Graf – Olten, 1959

Publisher: Urs Graf – Olten, 1959
Binding: Hardcover
Commentary: 1 commentary by Carlo Cecchelli, Giuseppe Furlani and Mario Salmi (enclosed)
Language: English
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Reproduction of twelve pages (miniatures and four text pages) of the original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€
(3,000€ - 7,000€)
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