Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

Title: Gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

Artist: Unknown

Medium: Illuminated manuscript

Size: 33.6 x 22.6 cm

Date: 586

Location: Laurentian Library, Florence.

From Acts of the Apostles 2:1-4: “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a violent wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

The iconography of Pentecost is usually very consistent, with either St. Paul or St. James the Just being substituted for Judas Iscariot. One variable is the inclusion of Mary among the disciples, which is wholly reasonable as the previous chapter of Acts says that she was among the disciples who gathered in the upper room following the ascension of Jesus. Therefore, most depictions include her, and, like this one, most center on her. She is depicted with a long oval face and a bright halo; the style of the apostles belongs to a more ancient art tradition, reminiscent of Roman mosaics.

This illustration is one of several from the Rabbula Gospels, a 6th century illuminated Syriac Gospel Book. One of the finest Byzantine works produced in Asia, it is distinguished by the miniaturist's predilection for bright colors, movement, drama, and expressionism. The miniaturist obviously drew some of his inspiration from Hellenistic art (draped figures), but relied mainly on the ornamental traditions of Persia. The Gospel was completed in the monastery of ‘Beth Mar John’ at ‘Beth Zagba’, in what is now northern Syria. It was signed by its scribe, Rabbula, about whom nothing else is known. Rabbula may have belonged to a group of scribes from Edessa who worked the area in the 6th century. In a long scribal note (fol. 292r–v), he named the others responsible for preparing the manuscript, but unfortunately omitted specific mention of its illuminators.

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