Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Illuminations from the 12th-Century Encyclopedia, Hortus Deliciarum

The Hortus Deliciarum (Garden of Delights) is an encyclopedia compiled by Herrad von Landsberg, who was abbess of Hohenburg Abbey on Mount Odilien in Alsace, which is now a region of France on the German border, between 1167 and 1195. She created this manuscript around 1175.

I came across this when I was looking for imagery for an article I was writing on the Book of Jonah. This is the painting I found: 

I was struck by the simple execution of the illumination, in which she uses line to describe form, and produces a highly stylized yet curiously modern-looking image. This is a style easily adapted by contemporary artists, and thus, can be the basis for new styles of authentic liturgical art. My curiosity was piqued and I investigated further. It struck me that this could be a style upon which a contemporary artist might base his or her own style. There is little dark tone used here, aside from in the lines, which gives an unnaturally bright look to the art. This is not inappropriate in sacred art, in which the challenge for the artist is always to make the image naturalistic enough so that we know what we are looking at (e.g. a man must look like a man and fish like a fish), while abstracting enough that it has a symbolic quality to it. The symbolic, abstracted quality reminds us that we are looking at an image that directs our imaginations to the prototype in heaven, so to speak. Here more illuminations by Herrad for your enjoyment.
The parable of the sower

The nativity of the Lord

The destruction of the Whore of Babylon

Jesus finds the apostle sleeping after he prays

The Ladder of Virtue

Mary as the woman of the Apocalypse, chapter 12.
The encyclopedic work, illustrated with 344 miniatures in Latin, summarized the theological and profane knowledge of the time for teaching the nuns. The manuscript consisted of 324 sheets of parchment, 255 in a large folio and 69 in a smaller format. The original burned on the night of August 24th to 25th, 1870 [2] during the siege of Strasbourg in the Franco-Prussian War. Only replicas survive, including a facsimile made by Christian Moritz Engelhart from 1818. The literature that describes this book speaks of the facsimile as being of high quality and faithful to the original. I cannot say, regardless, these images are striking.
Moses and the Parting of the Red Sea


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