Medieval Manuscripts: The Replacement of Rabbula’s “The Ascension”
AN: Sorry for the long time guys. I’m working on a post right now about the Kimbell’s Wari exhibit. Here’s a filler till then. Its an essay I wrote last semester for my Medieval Art class. Part of this blog is to better my writing so feel free to post any constructive criticism!
In the latter part of the byzantine age, around ca. 1125-50, a monk at the Monastery of the Virgin of the Kokkinobaphos named James, created the longest visual bibliography of the Virgin ever produced in Byzantium. His feat was made possible by the sister-in-law of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, Irene Sebastokratorissa. She was a patron of the arts and James the Monk was her spiritual advisor and confidant. His manuscript image of Christ’s Ascension(1), the first of the images in his Homilies on the Life of the Virgin, should be put in the text book because of its byzantine style lack of proportion and perspective, as well as its demonstration of architecture and strong Christian imagery.
James the Monk’s Christ’s Ascension depicts, of course, the ascension of Christ. In it, the figures are inside a church and looking up as Christ is guided into heaven by four arch angels while seated in a mandorla. Beneath him the church is separated by columns into three sections. Directly below Christ in the center section are the disciples, Mary in her blue robe, and two angels directing the gatherings’ gaze upward. In the left section stands Isaiah holding his prophecy Isaiah 63:1, “Who is this who comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, he who is splendid in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength? “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save”” (3). This is likely added because it accents Christ’s reason for ascension. In the right section stands David holding his prophecy Psalms 46:6 “The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.” (3). David’s prophecy is used to help portray God’s power and his ability to protect his followers by raging nations. Above Christ are the twelve disciples again, this time sitting around a Pentecost in a domed room. In between Christ and the seated disciples there is a decorated space. With the technique James used decorating this area he was able to make it look like a mosaic, which was one of the main decorations used in churches. Last of all is the lack of solid walls on the side of the church. James drew on this detail to help portray the otherworldly aspect that byzantine people tried to achieve with their churches.
All of this detail James included in his manuscript is the reason Christ’s Ascension should be included in the book. While there is already an ascension manuscript in it, The Ascension(2) by Rabbula, I believe that James’s should replace it. Through the whole chapter they talk heavily about the use of architecture in byzantine art by use of arches. James’s Christ’s Ascension shows this better than The Ascension. James’s image also has more of a lack of proportion and perspective than Rabbula’s. The James version still represents a manuscript made for a private patron or monastery, yet it portrays the byzantine foundation of lack of perspective and proportion, and use of architecture better than Rabbula’s.
Through superior use of imagery, architecture, and lack of proportion and perspective, I believe that James’s Christ’s Ascension from his work The Homilies on the Life of the Virgin should replace Rabbula’s The Ascension. This would cost little to no expense on the textbook writers since they would be replacing an image instead of added an entirely new one. It would give a better example of the byzantine foundations of lack of perspective and proportion, strong Christian imagery, and use of architecture while still pertaining to the textbook’s discussion of manuscripts that apply to private patrons or monasteries.
(1) Evans, Helen, and William Wixom. The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantium era, A.D 843-1261. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997.
(2) Stokstad, Marilyn. Medieval Art. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2004
(3) PDF Version of the King James Holy Bible. Dan Cogilano, 2004. http://www.ulc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/King-James-Bible-KJV-Bible-PDF.pdf (accessed February 17, 2013)