Late-Antique Illumination

Manuscripts created in distant antiquity are among the most coveted of historical artifacts due to their rarity and incredible value as historical sources as well as precious works of art and scholarship. These extremely rare specimens range from 4,000-year-old Egyptian papyri to ancient Hebrew texts to Greek works originating from the Hellenistic period to Roman manuscripts from Late Antiquity.

This artistic tradition was continued during the Middle Ages in the Eastern Roman- / Byzantine Empire with varying degrees of faithfulness to the classical artistic aesthetic. As with other periods, topics addressed in these manuscripts range from the biblical to the medical and the miniatures adorning these texts offer insights not only into ancient artistic techniques but their details also represent glimpses into daily life in the time and place that they were created.

Vergilius Romanus

Eclogues: Tityrus and Meliboeus

The first of Virgil’s three principle works consists of a series of short pastoral poems written during turbulent period between 44 and 38 BC beginning with the assassination of Julius Caesar. Although aged by fifteen centuries, it is a testimony to the artistic refinement of Late Antiquity with remarkably naturalistic human and animal forms.
Eclogue 1 consists of a dialogue between two shepherds: as Tityrus sits under a tree playing his flute, Meliboeus relates how he has been forced off his land and has nowhere to graze his herds. It was commonly believed in antiquity that this was an allegory for the loss of his own family’s farm when the soldiers of Antony and Octavian were resettled after the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC.