Essay on Art as a Manifestation of the Divine as Expressed in the Illuminated Manuscripts of the Romanesque

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Middlebury College
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Research paper
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A huge proportion of Romanesque sculptures are pictorial and biblical in the subject. Some of the common scenes that appear include the Fall of Man, the story of creation, the prefiguration of Jesus death and resurrection, the story of Daniel in the lions den and the story of Jonah and the whale among others. Often, the sculptures have been incorporated as parts of the architecture of churches, to convey messages to Christians as well as remind them of issues such as sin. Illumination played a huge role in showcasing Christian rituals, thoughts, and perceptions of holiness and authority. In the creation of these pieces of art, manuscripts were illuminated by supplementation with initials, borders, and illustrations, mostly in gold and silver, to signify their importance and sacred nature, as discussed in this paper (Kauffman, 1975, pp 1170).

Miniature of Christ in Majesty from the Aberdeen Bestiary

In this manuscript, Christ is seated on a throne with his feet on top of a rainbow and dressed in a quadrilobe mandoria, that was often worn by people in royalty. The color blue of the robe is also a color of royalty, hence emphasizing his majestic stature. On the blue robe, he wears a red cloak-also popularly worn by Roman rulers- and has no beard (in my opinion this symbolizes innocence). In the manuscript, Christ has raised his hand in blessing and holds a book, depicted to be the Bible, in his left hand. Further, the frames of the manuscript are held in place by 4 angels at the four corners, who are showcased in different postures that illustrate possession by a spirit. Finally, there are four teleomorphs that are on roundels at the corners of the manuscript. The painting uses gold and yellow to depict the value of Christ. It is important to note that the painting is derived from two passages in the Bible: Mathew 25:31, which talks of the Son of Man sitting on his throne with nations gathered around Him; and Revelation 4-5, which talks about the vision that John had of what heaven looked like, and Christ was sitting on his throne with angels around Him.

Adam names the animals from the Aberdeen Bestiary

This manuscript is a representation of the story of creation in Genesis 2 when God had put Him in charge of all creation and given him authority to name plants and animals. The choice of Adams blue robe and red clock as with Christ in the previous painting can be inferred to mean that he was being illustrated as a symbol of Gods grace and forgiveness on humankind. His posture and extended right hand in a form of blessing, with the animals (beasts) around him, is also similar to the depiction of Christs holiness-meaning that Adam had Christ-like powers of dominion over the earth. Further, the illumination has a gold background, with primary colors in the painting as orange, blue, rosy pink and brown, all colors and symbols of governship or royalty.

A self-portrait of the scribe Edwine

During the era when the Bible was being written and churches being built throughout Europe, some of the most important members of the community were priests, scribes, and artists, who had the important role of transmitting Christian messages in writing and in art. Scribe Edwine was responsible for artwork in a specific version of the Bible that is not disclosed. The idea to do an illustrated manuscript of himself was unheard of in the days and can be viewed as a foreshadowing of the individuality and self-importance in the society. The artist depicts himself doing his work, while surrounded by a royal arch. He uses deep orange and brown colors to show that even though he was not royalty, he was one of the most important members of the society.

(no title was given)

This piece of art showcases a scenery in the gospels, when Jesus was in the house of Mary and Martha and was anointed with oil on his feet, to show that he was holy and divine. In the manuscript, Jesus is surrounded by a blue halo, symbolizing His spiritual authority over the rest, as well as his godly and heavenly nature. In the painting are also Roman soldiers, who according to the Bible, were said to be the work of Christ and especially his association with sinners and women. The fact that they are locked out shows that Christ had dominion over the forms of authority in the region at the time, and they could not interfere with his work. During the late Medieval ages in Europe, there was increasing opposition to the participation of women in the church, as they were regarded as weaker and unholy, especially in Germany. This manuscript, therefore, was a probable message by the artist and other activists to the spiritual and political leaders, to allow women to participate in religion, in the same way, that Jesus did. That is Jesus allowed them to anoint Him with oil, then they were not unholy by any means (Hamburger, 1998). Further, the subjects in the manuscript are enclosed with Roman arches that were popularly used in the architectural designs of churches and temples, signifying that the geographical area in which Jesus was situated was regarded as a sanctuary and holy place.

The book of Durrow

Calligraphy was a common form of decoration that was specially employed in the writing of the Bible in passages that either required emphasis, or at the beginning of books. In this manuscript of the beginning of the book of Durrow, a spiritual text, the artist used gold to write the letters and draw calligraphy on the first letter of the text. Gold was a preferred color by artists, as it showcased divine intelligence, spiritual strength and transcendental light, and was associated with the light of God. Therefore, the illuminated letters and symbols were a sign of spiritual expression and a depiction of the text as holy. The combination of gold letters with pieces of art and jewelry as in the letter N of the manuscript contributed to the spiritual majesty of the word (Brown, 1994). The design of simple and natural shapes required extensive talent and dedication by the artist, in a bid to ensure that the painting did not ruin the delicate pieces of paper, and therefore the use of a complicated pattern as illustrated in the text only goes to show that the manuscript was very special and important, as the written word of God.


Brown, Michelle P. Understanding illuminated manuscripts: a guide to technical terms. Getty Publications, 1994.

Hamburger, Jeffrey F. The visual and the visionary: art and female spirituality in late medieval Germany. New York: Zone Books, 1998.

Kauffmann, Claus Michael, and Jonathan James Graham Alexander. Romanesque manuscripts, 1066-1190. H. Miller, 1975.

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