This is a study of the artistic and political context that led to the production of a truly exceptional Byzantine illustrated manuscript. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, codex grec 54 is one of the most ambitious and complex manuscripts produced during the Byzantine era. This thirteenth-century Greek and Latin Gospel book features full-page evangelist portraits, an extensive narrative cycle, and unique polychromatic texts. However, it has never been the subject of a comprehensive study and the circumstances of its commission are unknown. In this book Kathleen Maxwell addresses the following questions: what circumstances led to the creation of Paris 54? Who commissioned it and for what purpose? How was a deluxe manuscript such as this produced? Why was it left unfinished? How does it relate to other Byzantine illustrated Gospel books? Paris 54's innovations are a testament to the extraordinary circumstances of its commission. Maxwell's multi-disciplinary approach includes codicological and paleographical evidence together with New Testament textual criticism, artistic and historical analysis. She concludes that Paris 54 was never intended to copy any other manuscript. Rather, it was designed to eclipse its contemporaries and to physically embody a new relationship between Constantinople and the Latin West, as envisioned by its patron. Analysis of Paris 54's texts and miniature cycle indicates that it was created at the behest of a Byzantine emperor as a gift to a pope, in conjunction with imperial efforts to unify the Latin and Orthodox churches. As such, Paris 54 is a unique witness to early Palaeologan attempts to achieve church union with Rome.
'Based on extensive new research, this groundbreaking study places a richly illuminated Byzantine Gospel Book between East and West at a crucial time.' John Lowden, Courtauld Institute of Art, UK ’With its bilingual text, polychrome script, and extensive Gospel cycle, Paris, gr. 54 is the most intricately planned and opulently produced manuscript of late thirteenth-century Byzantium; it is also among the most enigmatic, an unfinished effort devoid of testimony to its patron or intended purpose. Professor Maxwell offers a compelling theory about its conception in a Constantinople torn by tension over the union of the Churches. But her meticulous examination yields something yet more fundamental. Her keen visual analysis of the processes of Paris 54’s production and the codex from which its miniatures were copied is matched here by a comparably detailed analysis of its Greek Gospel text and the manuscript from which it was copied. Her demonstration that Paris 54’s text has a genealogy as independent and revealing as its codicology and illumination is a signal achievement, and it opens a challenging new chapter in the study of illuminated books.’ Annemarie Weyl Carr, Southern Methodist University, USA 'With its detailed analyses, this monograph is a scholar’s work. But it is also a coffee-table book with a well-told narrative accompanied by thirty-three colour plates and forty-eight monochrome photographs.' Times Literary Supplement ’Kathleen Maxwell has now given us a lengthy and well-researched monograph devoted to this enormously complicated manuscript.’ Bryn Mawr Classical Review 'In a short newspaper review of Maxwell's book I concluded that she is a cautious investigative reporter; her readership is the jury assessing the plausibility of the evidence about this manuscript's history. She has certainly convinced this reviewer to declare in her favour. The whole volume has been handsomely prepared and produced. Maxwell provides helpful signposting,
Contents: Introduction; Paris 54: codicological and paleographical considerations; Paris 54: modus operandi of scribes and artists; The Greek Gospel text of Paris 54 and New Testament textual criticism; The three artists responsible for the narrative miniatures and evangelist portraits of Paris 54; Imitation and innovation: a comparative study of the narrative cycles and evangelist portraits of Paris 54 and Athos, Iviron 5; Paris 54’s place in thirteenth-century Constantinopolitan book illumination; Art and diplomacy in late thirteenth-century Constantinople: Paris 54 and the union of churches; Epilogue: from Constantinople to Catherine de Medici; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.
A detailed iconographical analysis of the individual miniatures of Paris 54, based upon Chapter 5 of the author's dissertation, is available here.