Tuesday, June 04, 2019

A Psalter of the Macedonian Renaissance: 10th-Century Iconographic Naturalism

Here are some folios from the Paris Psalter. An anonymous reader brought these to my attention because he thought I might be interested in the stylistic similarity to the 6th-century Mesopotamian illumination which I featured last week.

The Paris Psalter is not French; it was acquired by the French ambassador to Constantinople around 1550, when the city was in the hands of the Ottomans, and is now kept in the Bibliothèque National de France in Paris. It dates from a period of Greek art known as the Macedonian Renaissance, in which a more naturalistic style of iconography, clearly drawn from the antique classical style, flourished. This is the style of iconography that inspired Romanesque art in the West, which is, like this, an authentic iconographic tradition. Many modern iconographers look to this period for inspiration, because it is felt that the naturalism would appeal the modern eye, where as certain other style, such as that of the Russian art of the 15th century, are thought to be too abstracted for modern tastes.

Here, for example, is an image of David composing the psalms.

These are large - approximately 14’ x 10’. One things that really struck me about these images is that they do show some naturalistic perspective here, even down to color perspective - see how the distant objects are blue. In this sense, they are reminiscent of the style of frescoes of 1st century Pompeii that I have seen.

Nevertheless, the handling of the perspective is still enough off-natural to be iconographic; for example, the relative sizes of the figures do not change from foreground to distance. I would love to know how Eastern Christians view these images. Do you consider them authentically iconographic, or do you feel they push the envelope too far into naturalism?

Notice also how Roman the clothing looks, and the beautiful and intricate border patterns.

David Glorified by the Women of Israel
The Healing of Hezekias
The Prayer of Isaiah
The Reproach of Nathan and the Repentence of King David
The Prayer of Hannah

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