Unlike the Lapis Lazuli Wall Paintings where lapis is difficult to detect, Lapis Lazuli, gold and vermilion could be more lavishly use on smaller formats of manuscript illuminations. It feels lapis has been touched by the heavens. Lapis Lazuli has been of utter importance to almost every religion known to man. On Lapis Lazuli on Holy writings we´ll enjoy how this magical stone lights up the pages of Medieval Christian book images.
Its use comes into his own, particularly from the eleventh century. In the middle of Romanesque Europe. With the communication across the Byzantine and Islamic worlds opened, the stone had become more available.
The generous use of the ultramarine pigment, ground from Lapis Lazuli, highlights the connections between east and west.
While in wall paintings the use of lapis was restricted by cost, in the manuscripts the lapis stands out. As we enjoy looking these blue documents, we see the impressive distance traveled from the source to the brush. For that reason the name given by the medieval Italian, oltromarino, meaning “from across the seas”.
The most famous recipe for the ultramarine color is master Cennini´s formula. Only the purest ultramarine was used for the most worthy subjects. Of course, for less significant parts of an illumination the cheaper azurite was used, sometimes even under a top layer of lapis. Sometimes lapis was also used lavishly in medieval Islamic miniatures in association with heroes of great epics but without the religious connotation.
Among the earliest Christian manuscripts are the Lindisfarne Gospels, written and illustrated at the Northumbrian Abbey of Lindisfarne on Holy Island around 698. It has touches of Lapis Lazuli Pigments.
In its seventh and eighth century the monastery was wealthy enough to afford the skills and materials to create the Gospels. As a matter of fact, the monks were the ones who controlled all the pigment commerce, including ultramarine Lapis Lazuli. The monastic network provided inspiration and hospitality to the traveler.
It belonged to the Benedictine monastery of Bury St Edmunds. Ruined by the Reformation, Bury had been throughout the Middle Ages one of the grandest monasteries in western Europe. It was commissioned around 1135. According to Wikipedia, this magical work of art was created by the first recorded professional artist in England. He was called Master Hugo. The illuminations were magnificent. One of the most distinctive illuminations was the one with the Moses cycle. With Moses explaining the Ten Commandments to engrossed Israelite’s.
It was also commissioned by the Benedictine Order and was made in the Christ Church, Canterbury in the middle of the twelfth century. It has spectacular ornamented initials. The heavenly Lapis Lazuli was reserved for the holiest biblical characters.
One of the most impressive manuscripts is the Trinity Apocalypse. No one knows who wrote it but it was made in the mid-thirteenth century. Its an enormous, sumptuous apocalypse. It has an image where vermilion dragons swirl out of Lapis Lazuli skies to attack lapis-robed virgins who are rescued by lapis-draped angels.
It was commissioned by Henry of Bois at the end of the twelfth century. Experts estimate there were about six hands at work on the illuminations. Their nicknames were: Master of the Leaping Figures, who painted a lavishly lapised ”D”, showing Solomon and the prophets accepting the book from the wise man in the Book of Wisdom. The Master of Genesis Initial, the Amalekite Master, even the Master of the superb full-page Morgan Leaf who had the audacity to paint over a design of the Master of the Apocryphal Drawings.
It was written and illuminated around 1153 for the canons of Floresse Abbey in South-east Belgium. Ultramarine was used extravagantly in the frontispiece to volume two with the left hand miniature illustrating ‘The Virtues and Corporeal Works of Mercy’ and the right hand miniature illustrating the Transfiguration.
These Bibles were commissioned by large wealthy monasteries with well established scriptoria. But there were also smaller, more personal illuminated books.
It was created in that Crusader world of twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Floresse Bible is now in The British Library. It was created in the scriptorium of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem between 1131 and 1143. The text is in Latin and was illustrated by one Basil. There is an image where Christ appears standing on a huge rock of Lapis Lazuli.
It was made for the Benedictine Abbey in Dorset between 1400 and 1407. This manuscript is digitally displayed in the British Library.
On the illumination for Christmas Day the Virgin lies robed in ultramarine on a vermilion rug with an anxious Joseph hanging over her. There is full page Crucifixion with Mary (in blue) below the cross.
This is a little sample of the heavenly Lapis Lazuli on holy bibles. These wonderful manuscript illuminations are one more example of the importance lapis had in all kind of religion manifestations. I feel lucky to be able to appreciate lapis in all its grandeur.