Old Russian miniature book

St. Luke engaged in copying manuscript books. Gospel-book of Ostromir (1056—1057)

Old Russian miniature book

The art of book design has an interesting and rich history. For centuries, books were created by talented artists manually, commissioned by wealthy people. Each hand-written book took several months, and even years of hard work. Particular skill and care required work on the “facial” manuscripts – the so-called books decorated with miniatures, illustrations and ornamentation.

In ancient Russia book writing arose in the XI century and the first few manuscripts (for example, the famous “Ostromirovo Gospel”, 1056- 1057) demonstrate an amazing performance, excellence and a rich fantasy. The material for the writing till the XV century served vellum (specially processed leather). Tight sheets of parchment were sewn together in a notebook, and a notebook – in the book block. Massive, covered with leather bindings protected the parchment from damage. The text was written with dark brownish color ink, as a rule – in two columns. No matter how expensive was parchment, a wizard did not stint to leave wide margins – the page looked very beautiful and solemn, and initial (capital letter) had to be big and intricate.

A lot of talent and imagination required from the artist to create fancy initials (and besides – all are different), assemble them from fancy weaves, swirls, leaves, human faces and fantastic monsters. Decorated with such initials, any book, even liturgical, acquired fabulous traits, close to the folk art. The book began with the ceremonial or decorative miniature-patterned frontispiece, before each chapter the master drew colorful ornaments. Consistency of design turned the book into a single work of art.

Paints used in ancient miniatures did not fade with time. In dense glossy parchment they froze in opaque layer, shimmering deep sonorous tones of red, green, blue, the light of the subtlest shades looked gentle pink, golden, blue. Special elegance and refinement gave to a miniature gold. Gradually the character of the book has changed. Handwriting loses rhythm, clarity and turns into a powdered fluent cursive. In addition to large, full-leaf, appear multi-story scenes, located directly in the text or in the margin. In XIV-XV centuries, they are not complicated in composition, drawn without a background. Scenes are often connected with the corresponding paragraphs of the text, which, incidentally, are no longer placed in two columns, but completely cover the page.

With the advent of paper Russia (XV c.) changed color scale of miniatures. Paints, as if blurred, lost enamel luster and vibrance, acquired watercolor transparency and lightness. Even a glimmer of gold is softer, muted. The growing interest in life, to the world is reflected in miniature, filling it with new content. Portrait miniatures were less constrained by the formal requirements, the range of subjects became much broader than in the icon and fresco. Whatever the artist illustrated – historical chronicle, religious books or literary work, he always tried to make miniature result of his observations.
Initials are undergoing big changes. They increasingly make their way as a living attitude and imagination of the master. Often caps take the outlines of animals, birds, snakes or fabulous monsters. And often on the site of initial scene depicted figures or individual fishermen, hunters, buffoons.

In the books of XVI-XVII centuries, almost every page was illustrated, almost every page talked about everything – from the everyday lives of ordinary people to major historical events. Many stories have reflected the theme of patriotic struggle for national independence, which the history of the Russian people was full of. Miniaturist with documentary precision depicted household items, tools, utensils, clothes, weapons, religious and secular architecture. Some scenes he showed in a humorous tinge. In the design of the book is reflected folk art, full-blooded and active.

In the 70-80s of the XVII century image of a man in miniature became more individual. There are portraits, which subtly feature appearance depicting his character. In the artistic techniques much attention was given to the transmission of light and shade and volume, complexity of perspective constructions. Often at the end of the manuscript the book artists left a record of where and when the book was created, by whom and at whose request.

Taken from the life characters, narrative story, familiar realities helped the medieval reader specifically to accept the contents of the book; for us, these miniatures – an inexhaustible source of study of life, lifestyle, appearance of our ancestors. Handwritten books have not escaped the ravages of time, wars, fires, and sometimes human ignorance. No wonder that to our days has survived only a small part of a huge manuscript heritage. But what remained, indicates a high level of books in ancient Russia, the talent and genius of masters. The ancient said: “The hand holding the pen will decay, but the written lives forever.”

After the Great October revolution, most monastic libraries, books from private collections, as outstanding monuments of national culture, were moved to the state repository. One of the richest collections of ancient manuscripts is the State Public Library named after Saltykov-Shchedrin in St. Petersburg.

Battle scene. Manuscript from the Kiev area. 1397

Battle scene. Manuscript from the Kiev area. 1397

Battle between the army of Alexander Nevsky and the Livonian knights on the ice-bound Chudskoye Lake. 17th-century manuscript

Battle between the army of Alexander Nevsky and the Livonian knights on the ice-bound Chudskoye Lake. 17th-century manuscript

Marginal figures of animals and birds. Manuscript from the Kiev area. 1397

Marginal figures of animals and birds. Manuscript from the Kiev area. 1397

Scene of a feast. 17th-century manuscript

Scene of a feast. 17th-century manuscript

Decorated initial. Gospel-book of Ostromir (1056—1057)

Decorated initial.
Gospel-book of Ostromir (1056—1057)

Initial with figures of fishermen. Manuscript from the Novgorod area. 14th century

Initial with figures of fishermen. Manuscript from the Novgorod area.
14th century

Decorated initial. Gospel-book of Ostromir (1056—1057)

Decorated initial.
Gospel-book of Ostromir (1056—1057)

View of a house and grounds. 17th-century manuscript

View of a house and grounds. 17th-century manuscript

Temptation of the righteous by evil spirits. 17th-century manuscript

Temptation of the righteous by evil spirits. 17th-century manuscript

Shipwreck and miraculous escape. 17th-century manuscript

Shipwreck and miraculous escape. 17th-century manuscript

St. Luke engaged in copying manuscript books. Gospel-book of Ostromir (1056—1057)

St. Luke engaged in copying manuscript books. Gospel-book of Ostromir (1056—1057)

Burning village: scene from the time of the Tartar invasion. 17th-century manuscript

Burning village: scene from the time of the Tartar invasion.
17th-century manuscript

Portrait of Peter I as a child. Manuscript book of 1673

Portrait of Peter I as a child. Manuscript book of 1673

Monastery on the Solovki Island In White Sea.

Monastery on the Solovki Island In White Sea.

Building site. 17th-century manuscript

Building site.
17th-century manuscript

Dancing women. Manuscript from the Kiev area. 1397

Dancing women. Manuscript from the Kiev area. 1397