Archive for the ‘art’ Tag

Images from an eighteenth-century Syriac manuscript from Alqosh   3 comments

Light on text and heavier on pictures, this post offers three memorable pieces of art from an eighteenth-century Syriac Gospel lectionary. The manuscript comes from the collection of the Dominican Friars of Mosul (DFM), no. 13, which was completed in August of 1723 in Alqosh. The DFM collection is one of several digitized recently by the Centre numérique des manuscrits orientaux (Mosul) and available for study at HMML. This is all of the representational artwork in the book, but there are also several title decorations and some decorative crosses.

The entry into Jerusalem:

DFM 13, f. 43v

DFM 13, f. 43v

Thomas touching the wounds of Jesus, with Simon Peter looking on:

DFM 13, f. 60r

DFM 13, f. 60r

And finally, Saint George ramming a spear through the head of the dragon:

DFM 13, f. 61r

DFM 13, f. 61r

A decorated Gospel book from Gunda Gunde   7 comments

Manuscripts in Gǝʿǝz from Gunda Gunde (ጉንደ፡ጉንዴ) in the Tigray region of Ethiopia were photographed in 2006* and they are available for study on-site at HMML or for copies to be ordered. Unlike the lion’s share of HMML’s Ethiopian collection, which is on bitonal microfilm, the copies of Gunda Gunde manuscripts were born digital, like the rest of the collections photographed post-2003 by HMML. While full color obviously makes everything for manuscript study better (paleography, codicology), any artwork that manuscripts may have is rendered especially more strikingly than in microfilm. I am the furthest thing from an art historian, but I would nevertheless like to share a few images from a 15th/16th century Gospel book from Gunda Gunde (no. 440/C₃-IV-5). (By all means, any comments on these images from art historians or artistically interested codicologists are welcome!)

First, here are some of the Eusebian canons, similar in design to those of other language traditions.

Gunda Gunde 440, ff. 9v-10r

The interlocking strands of color are worth a close-up.

Gunda Gunde 440, f. 10r detail

Now here is Matthew the evangelist. Similar paintings precede the other three Gospels. Note his scribal instruments.

Gunda Gunde 440, f. 13v

Finally from this manuscript, here are the apostles Matthias and Thomas, then Paul and James, the brother of Jesus, and on the next page, as it says, “Image[s] of our holy prophet fathers” (śǝʿlä abäwinä qǝddusan näbiyyat) Enoch “the learned” (or “scribe,” ṣäḥafi), Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob, with the four on the bottom being Job “the righteous” (ṣadǝq), Moses “the archprophet” (liqä näbiyyat), Aaron “the priest” (kahǝn; note the censer), and Joshua “the chief” (sǝfun).

Gunda Gunde 440, ff. 15v-16r

I close with a fine description of the Gunda Gunde style of manuscript painting: “It introduced squat figures with extremely simplified bodies hidden under stylised garments in bright colours covered by geometrical, patchwork pattern. Their pear-formed heads with concave faces have characteristic elongated eyes, upward triangular eyebrows and small mouths.” (E. Balicka-Witakowska in Enc. Aeth. 2, 920).

In the next post I hope to show and discuss another decorated Ethiopian manuscript (one with a little more text) from a different monastery. For now, feast your mind on these bright juxtaposed colors!


Beylot, Robert, and Ewa Balicka-Witakowska. “Gundä Gunde.” In Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 2. Wiesbaden, 2005. 917-921.

Marx, Annegret, Ewa Balicka-Witakowska, Marilyn E. Heldman. “Painting.” In Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 4. Wiesbaden, 2010. 90-101.

*The project was handled by Michael Gervers and Ewa Balicka-Witakowska. Thanks to Wayne Torborg, HMML’s digital director, for touching up these photos for me.

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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