hazards of the classics

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.

---The Lindisfarne Gospels manuscript (www.bl.uk) was saved from the first known Viking raid on England more than 1200 years ago and survived the upheavals of the Dark Ages and the Reformation. The priceless hand-painted manuscript, created on 259 leaves of Vellum, is now kept in a controlled environment at the British Library. Dr Brown calls the Lindisfarne Gospels "one of the great landmarks of human cultural achievement" and "the most elaborate book ever made." Fragile The book may have survived the ups and downs of British history, but it is now terrifyingly fragile. "There are several problems," Dr Brown explains. "The fabric is vellum, taken from yearling cattle, and like all animal prepared skin, it attempts to bend itself back into its organic shape. The pigment is only held on to the vellum by beaten egg white. Whenever the pigment moves it flakes." ---Read More:http://www.dclab.com/lindisfarne_gospels.asp

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.

---Didymus: Liber de Spiritu Sancto New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, Ms. 496 Florence, 1488 Made for the library of King Matthias.---Read More:http://home.hu.inter.net/~jekely/treasures.htm

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.

Read More:http://ve.torontopubliclibrary.ca/collected_works/visual_opera.html ---The tale, originally written in the 2nd Century AD, narrates the adventures of a young man changed by magic into an ass. Although this work was denounced by St. Augustine in The City of God, The Golden Ass was very successful in the medieval period and became a best seller in Renaissance Italy. This book is a fine example from the press of Conrad Sweynheym, one of the first printers known to be active in Italy. The library has a small collection of incunabula, books printed within the first fifty years of the advent of the printing press. This copy, which lacks signatures, is from the library of the book collector Michael Woodhull, who wrote bibliographical comments, dated May 10, 1802, on the front fly-leaf. This earliest printed edition of The Golden Ass dates from 1469. It was printed in Rome by Conrad Sweynheyn and is the oldest book in The Fine printing & Private Press Collection.---

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.

---As the subject of painting or sculpture, the story of Amor and Psyche became a lot more popular during the 18th and in the 19th century. Jacques-Louis David’s massive (241×184 cm) painting, which now hangs in the Cleveland Museum of Art, dates from 1817, when the artist was nearly seventy years old. He seems to take little interest in the mythological or allegorical aspects of the story. Note how Cupid’s wings blend into the bed sheet. In the end, it’s just a picture of two teenage lovers, and Cupid seems quite proud of his conquest.---Read More:http://vcrfl.wordpress.com/2012/01/page/12/


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.

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---Limestone tablet found at Kish in Iraq dated from about 3500 B.C. considered the oldest example of picture writing yet discovered; Among the images here are a sledge,a head, a foot and a hand. Image:http://peelacademy.blogspot.ca/2010_05_28_archive.html

Little did he know that, 1300 years on, his colors would cause powerful computer software to falter in its tracks when it was used by the national British Library in London to create facsimile and electronic versions of the ancient text.

“Even Adobe PhotoShop had problems with the range of colors the artist/scribe used,” explains Dr Michelle Brown, curator of illuminated manuscripts at the British Library. “The level of subtlety is extraordinary considering the materials he was working with — and it’s as good as anything we can do today with all our computers.” Read More:http://www.dclab.com/lindisfarne_gospels.asp


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