Even though holocausts, hatreds, and forgetfulness have obliterated vast treasures of past cultures, occasional good luck, later circumspection, and modern recovery have helped rescue a priceless part of our written legacy from oblivion.
An eloquent instance of the chances and mischances that surround the survival of precious records is given by the Lindisfarne Gospels ( above),a book inscribed around 700 A.D. at a monastery on the northern coast of England, lost at sea, and miraculously recovered. The illuminate manuscript, a rendering of the four Gospels, carries above its Latin lines a translation in the old Northumbrian dialect, making this the earliest “English” version of them in existence. The page shown here opens the Gospel of Saint John.
Above is a manuscript copy of a translation of Didymus Alexandrinus’s De Spiritu Sancto, and the portrait is of Saint Jerome who translated the work. The book was made in Italy and belonged to the library of King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, part of one of the world’s great libraries. After his death in 1490, this collection began to be dispersed and eventually the Turks seized most of what was left in 1541. To this day, fewer than three hundred of Corvinus’s books can be accounted for, from a collection that was said to rival that of the Vatican. The image above is from the Pierpont Morgan Library.
Certainly, when old texts are recovered, there is often an artistic reverberation. Ever since the recovery of Apeleius’s Golden Ass from oblivion, the romance of Cupid and Psyche has been a favorite theme of artists and writers, and nowhere more so than in France. A typical example is the painted ceiling in the seventeenth-century Hotel de Sully in Paris. There was also Les Amours de Psyche et de Cupidon, written by Jean de la Fontaine in 1669, and even more popular was Moliere’s Psyche, produced in 1671 with music by Lully, dancing, elaborate settings, and machines for wafting the various gods and goddesses to the heavens and back.
AROUND 715-720 AD, Bishop Eadfrith toiled feverishly to decorate and copy the Latin text of the Four Gospels from the New Testament of the Bible. Working alone in the Abbey at Lindisfarne, North East England, he produced an illuminated manuscript — with colors easily rivaling the cosmopolitan Mediterranean palette — using only a handful of locally available colors.
itle="kish1" src="/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/kish1.jpg" alt="" width="528" height="479" />