Luke and John from CFMM 37   Leave a comment

Below is a well-preserved painting of Luke and John from Church of the Forty Martyrs, Mardin, 37. The previous folio has the other two evangelists, and there are still more paintings in the book. Jules Leroy describes them all exactly in his Manuscrits syriaques à peintures (Paris, 1964), p. 386 of the text, so I won’t repeat everything he has written, but I will highlight a few things in the picture. The evangelists’ names, with the respective epithets of “evangelist” and “apostle,” are written in Syriac, and then, in Greek, “Saint Luke” and “Saint John the theologian.” On the writing surface before each writer is the beginning of his own Gospel in Syriac, but while Luke’s (and also Matthew’s and Mark’s on the other page) is in black ink, John’s alone is in red. Luke is made to be younger than John, and as for their seats, they’re ornate and cushioned.

CFMM 37, f. 6r

This image’s color and texture make for a stunning example of what quality photography can do for looking at manuscripts. (I should point out, too, that the image here is not of the highest quality that we have of it.) By contrast, here’s the bitonal image from Leroy’s aforementioned book, p. 137 of the Album.

We might well assume that the production that went into Leroy’s Album was well nigh state-of-the-art, at least within the parameter of making the book mildly affordable, but in any case, it was over half a century ago. In fifty years (or less?), as hard as it is to imagine, we — or our successors, depending on how old we are now! — might look back on the technological means and method that went into making the color image above as quaint, old-fashioned, and very imperfect. Even so, we’re now in a place for the present, at least, to make a vast improvement on Leroy’s excellent assemblage of images from Syriac manuscripts, in terms not only of the potential quality of the visual outcomes, but also of the content of the image collection itself, this latter aspect naturally requiring the cooperation of the owning libraries. Any such revision and improvement of Leroy’s work would allow an ebb in the detail of commentary on each image: when Leroy described his images, he was careful to point out the colors involved, his readers hardly able to get that knowledge from the bitonal images in his Album, and that would no longer be the case with the rich, almost textured, images we can now have at our disposal.

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