31 Days of Medieval Manuscripts

Non-European Medieval – Day Nineteen of Medieval Manuscripts

Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara Expounding the Dharma to a Devotee: Folio from a Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita Manuscript by the Mahavihara Master, early 12th century, Bengal, eastern India or Bangladesh. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo from metmuseum.org.

Those of you who follow my Gargoyle of the Day feature should be well aware by now that I’m a big fan of finding elements we typically associate with the art of the European Middle Ages in non-European settings. Well, what is true about my love of non-European gargoyles also holds true in the world of illuminated manuscripts. Neither anthropomorphic drainspouts nor decorated books are unique to the European Middle Ages, but in both cases, that is the context in which most of us tend to be familiar with them. That’s why I greatly enjoy the opportunity to explore their usage in other cultures and time periods. Here are a series of illuminated or illustrated manuscripts from elsewhere in the world, all roughly contemporary with the European works we’ve looked at thus far this month.

Section from a Qur’an Manuscript, Baghdad, A.D. 1192-3. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo from metmuseum.org.

Above is a selection from an early 12th-century Qur’an. Since Islamic sacred art contains no figural representation, decoration is primarily abstract and can involve the writing itself. This beautiful Arabic script is truly fascinating to the eye, and the gilt certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

Illuminated Gospel, late 14th–early 15th c., Ethiopia, Amhara region. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo from metmuseum.org

Above is an illuminated gospel book made in Ethiopia. It can be fascinating to see how Christian manuscripts produced outside of Europe is simultaneously similar and different to what we’ve seen from British, French, and German artists.

“Design for the Water Clock of the Peacocks”, Folio from a Book of the Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices by al-Jazari. Badi al-Zaman ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari (1136–1206), A.D. 1315, Syria. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo from metmuseum.org.

Above is an illustration from a Syrian scientific or engineering book. I love how the peacocks are depicted. They are simple yet easily-recognizable and full of personality. The illustration at the very top of the post is from an Indian Buddhist manuscript. Its vibrant colors are so compelling.


A Guide to Islamic Art

Discover the fascinating varied phenomenon we call Islamic art. It’s a wide-ranging area with lots of diversity, so consider this an introduction to what you’ll see in the Islamic Art section of any art museum rather than a definitive guide to a set of singular characteristics.

Want to enjoy art more? Take an online course.

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