15.08.52, Maxwell, Between Constantinople and Rome

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Hugh Houghton

The Medieval Review 15.08.52

Maxwell, Kathleen. Between Constantinople and Rome: An Illuminated Byzantine Gospel Book (Paris gr. 54) and the Union of Churches. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2014. pp. xviii, 372. ISBN: 978-1-4094-5744-2 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Hugh Houghton
University of Birmingham

This impressive study brings together insights from art history, palaeography, codicology, textual criticism, ecclesiastical politics and Byzantine history to make bold but plausible claims about a fascinating bilingual gospel book. Maxwell's contention is that Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, grec 54 (Gregory-Aland 16), a manuscript about whose origin little is known, is nothing less than a deluxe volume commissioned by Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus as a gift for Pope Gregory X in conjunction with the brief Union of the Greek and Latin Churches promoted at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274. Whether or not this hypothesis is fully accepted, the detailed multidisciplinary analysis in this handsome volume not only offers a model for the study of a single illuminated manuscript but makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the production of Greek New Testament manuscripts in the Byzantine period.

Paris 54 is unique for having its text written in four colours according to speaker: crimson for the words of Jesus and supernatural beings (although some dominical words in Matthew 19-21 are in gold), blue for Old Testament quotations and figures such as the disciples, black for lesser characters, and bright red for narrative sections (18-24). The Greek text, copied by a single scribe apart from one quire, is complete; the Latin column, by a number of hands, initially follows the same colour scheme, but was left unfinished with certain portions added later in black ink. A series of over fifty miniatures was intended to accompany the text, but only twenty-two were completed. The five in progress indicate that illuminators tended to work on multiple pictures simultaneously, using the same colours in each: the Latin text of Mark, too, was copied by colour rather than written in sequence (37, 42, 47). The four ink bowls in the evangelist portrait of Luke, matching the colours of the text, could be an internal reference to the innovative approach in this manuscript (18; plate XIX). Maxwell wonders whether the work was abandoned after the death of Pope Gregory in 1276, claiming that the Latin content would have made the book "a concrete embodiment of heresy" following Michael VIII's death in 1282 (197-199).

The first chapter introduces and summarises the rest of the book, which deals with the manuscript's production, its biblical text, the style and subjects of the cycle of illustrations, the historical context of its commission and its later history. Several chapters draw on material presented or published elsewhere: the book has its origin in Maxwell's 1986 doctoral thesis, but is completely revised and up to date. One chapter of the original dissertation, providing detailed descriptions of the miniatures, can be downloaded from the publisher's website. There are thirty-five colour and forty-eight black and white plates: one of the reasons the full study has taken so long to appear was the difficulty of obtaining images of one of the key witnesses (74). Scanned microfilm of Paris 54 is now available on the New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room (), although readers will hope for the inclusion of a full colour digitisation on the Bibliothèque nationale's Gallica website.

Previous studies had already identified Athos, Iviron 5 (GA 990) as the source for many of the illustrations in Paris 54, and Princeton, University Library, Garrett 3 (GA 1528) as a close match for its text. Maxwell's proof that the latter manuscript was, in fact, the exemplar for Paris 54 comes not just from shared examples of homoeoteleuton (76), but, more significantly, from the insertion of a red cross by a later hand in Garrett 3 at exactly the point in the text where space is left for an image in Paris 54 (80-81). Maxwell corrects Omont's identification of some of miniatures, with convincing reasons. She describes in a precise yet humorous way the efforts made by at least two of the three artists to adapt the illustrations from Iviron 5 to the wider format of Paris 54, shedding light on their technical skill as well as their attitude to their model (pp. 107–8, 115–25). The expansion of the twenty-nine picture cycle in Iviron 5 to the fifty-one miniatures in Paris 54 furnishes Maxwell with another argument in favour of a papal dedicatee: seven of the extra scenes involve depictions of the apostle Peter (139-143). Her demonstration that the text and illustrations were drawn from two different exemplars is an important contribution of this study, demonstrating the benefits of a multidisciplinary approach.

Maxwell builds her historical case cumulatively. She is conscious of the circumstantial nature of much of the evidence. Chapter 8, in which she considers the political context, is more tentative than the other sections of the book: four other possible recipients of Paris 54 are suggested, none of whom is conclusively ruled out, and it is even allowed that someone other than Michael VIII may have commissioned the manuscript. Elsewhere, vivid reconstructions occasionally crowd out these alternatives: while it is surprising that such a deluxe creation was left incomplete, there could be more mundane reasons for this than attributing it to political turmoil brought on by the death of the emperor. The characterisation of the gospel text as "divinely inspired and therefore sacrosanct" (24) is not entirely supported by the differences between Paris 54 and its exemplar enumerated in a lengthy Appendix. Nevertheless, Maxwell makes a convincing case for the position stated from the very beginning that "Paris 54 was created at the behest of a Byzantine emperor as a gift to a pope" (2). Her discussion is bolstered with extensive and judicious footnotes throughout, the fruit of many years' research: her notes about Armenian quire signatures in Greek manuscripts (13-15) and lectionary readings for the Great Feasts (137-139) offer two examples of this, although it is not easy to find these topics in the index.

Maxwell insists that her appendix comparing the texts of the three witnesses in Matthew should not be called a collation on the specious ground that she has no formal text-critical training (p. 72 n. 87). Unfortunately, this list of readings is marred by recurrent typographical and formatting errors in Greek (e.g. Matthew 2:8, 3:16, 5:13, 7:18, 8:13, 10:34, 11:23, 13:3, 15:2, 18:7, 18:26, 24:43, 28:2 and 28:14). There are errors as well as inconsistencies in the treatment of nomina sacra: at 3:15, ΠΝΑ is written out as πνευμα α, while at 11:4 and 12:25, IC is expanded as Ιησους Χριστος. The multiple inaccuracies in the reading of the additions in Paris 54 at 5:44 (including the omission of the final phrase) and 18:7, which are also imputed to the two other manuscripts, the occasional garbling of the Nestle-Aland base text (e.g. 7:18, 8:16, 22:4) and a note which escaped final checking (12:2, where Paris 54 actually reads ειπον) suggest that this appendix cannot be relied on for further study and might better have been omitted. Typographical errors are rare elsewhere in the book, although the Latin spelling Naim has been preferred in Luke 7 on all but one occasion (113), "Reeves" should be "Reeve" on p. 220 and the list of textual critics on p. xv should probably read "Wachtel" rather than "Wessel." The standard kephalaia are found in Codex Alexandrinus, not Vaticanus (p. 139 n. 112).

The absence of an examination of the Latin text is a surprising oversight, particularly given the unusual circumstances of its creation (181-191). Maxwell asserts that it follows the Vulgate (3). While this is true of the overall affiliation, a comparison of just a few verses reveals differences from the standard text, especially in John (e.g. lumen for lux in John 1:4-5, nomen ei for cui nomen erat in John 1:6 and testificaretur for testimonium perhiberet in John 1:7-8). The reader is left wondering why just four verses of Latin text were supplied in the middle of Luke 5 (mentioned in passing in a footnote on p. 38 and the list of contents on p. 231). One would expect a reference to Sautel and Leroy for the description of the ruling pattern (235), and more information about the change in lineation in Quire 23 (232). The copyists' use of minims, joined into word-like groups, in order to make up the width of the Latin column is yet another of the remarkable features of the manuscript (37).

This book will serve as a point of reference not just for Paris 54 but for Byzantine manuscripts more generally. If it had been produced by a team of scholars, each of them expert in their area, it would represent a significant achievement in furthering multidisciplinary research. The fact that it is the work of one person is cause for admiration. Both in her methodology and her results, Maxwell has produced a work of lasting value. She shows how the detailed study of a single codex can contribute to many fields of study. What further insights might result from the application of this integrated approach to other manuscripts?

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