Byzantine and Christian Museum :: Collections .::. Manuscripts & early printed books

Manuscripts & early printed books

The Collection of Manuscript Codices and Documents is made up of about 450 artefacts, dating from the sixth to the nineteenth century, which provide invaluable information on the history and use of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine codices, the development of scripts, illumination and bindings.

The collection is formed around the codices assembled by the Christian Archaeological Society as a result of donations. This core collection is supplemented by manuscript codices from the Monastery of the Dormition of the Virgin in Bačkovo in Eastern Roumeli (modern-day Bulgaria), which came to the Byzantine and Christian Museum in 1920, and the Byzantine codices from Eastern Thrace and Asia Minor which were transferred to the Museum in 1923 along with the so-called Refugees Heirlooms.   Around 1923 the collection was augmented by the arrival of other codices from various sources, such as the painted manuscripts from the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Serres.  In 1979, when the Loverdos Collection was handed over to the Museum, another 180 important codices dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries entered the collection.

The oldest manuscripts in the collection come from the Refugees Heirlooms, as for example the leaf from a purple codex, dated to the sixth century which belonged to the Codex Purpureus Petropolitanus, [most of] which is now in the State Library in Saint Petersburg.  The painted lectionary from the church of Saint Gregory of Nyssa in Trebizond is dated to the eleventh century, with priceless notes and later additions which testify to its continuous use up to the nineteenth century.
   
There are also important codices from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. One of the most significant objects in the collection is the chrysobull of Andronikos II Palaiologos with a miniature of the Emperor handing his charter to Christ, in imitation of older models of imperial iconography.  This chrysobull is dated to 1301. 
   
The Post-Byzantine painted manuscripts reflect the characteristics of Post-Byzantine painting and artistic tendencies from various parts of the Orthodox world, above all from the Danubian Principalities.  But most importantly they contribute a great deal to an understanding of their period, as each codex provides a lot of information. Miniature painting does not stand aloof from the artistic trends and new subject matter coming from the West, while professional copyists were foreshadowing the introduction of printing and the imminent triumph of printed books.
   
Among the most important Post-Byzantine codices in the collection is a psalter from the first half of the seventeenth century, signed by Loukas the Cypriot, later Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan of Hungaro-Wallachia.
   
The cataloguing of the Museums collection of manuscripts was carried out over many years by the Byzantinists Nikolaos Beïs /Nicholas Bees (1906) and Demetrios Pallas (1933, 1955).


The Museums early printed books, of which there are some 200, were printed between the sixteenth and the nineteenth century and are the product of the most important printing presses in Venice, the Balkans and Central Europe.  These publications make it clear that Greek intellectuals in the diaspora played a decisive role in creating the print publishing industry in Europe and the Balkans in the early decades of the sixteenth century.  The oldest book in the collection, Philostratoss Lives of the Sophists, was published in 1503 in Venice by Aldo Manutio, while some early printed books, which have not yet found a place in  the Greek or foreign scholarly bibliography, are nevertheless of great interest.

The Byzantine and Christian Museums Collection of Anthivola (Cartoons) and Drawings, one of the most important and largest of its kind, contains around 3,500 works. Most of them are drawn in charcoal or ink, occasionally paint, while others have written pointers as to iconography or instructions regarding colour.
   
The preparatory drawings for icons and the cartoons (i.e. working drawings belonging to Post-Byzantine painters) were only made into a collection in the 1960s, when 3,000 new acquisitions arrived in the Museum as a result of purchases, most of which date to between the seventeenth and the nineteenth century and come from the workshop of the Corfiot icon painter Nikolaos Kourtelesis.
   
The oldest drawing in the collection, a fifteenth- or sixteenth-century sheet from Sinai, depicting the Entombment and the Assumption of Saint John the Divine, came to the Museum in 1962 in the form of a donation from the Museums then Director Georgios Sotiriou.  The donation, made to the Christian Archaeological Association (XAE) by the Constantinopolitan intellectual and physician Alexandros Paspatis in 1890, now also forms part of the Museums Collection.  It consists of a series of watercolours and drawings of Byzantine churches and monasteries in Constantinople made by Paspatis himself and A. Manarakis in the late nineteenth century.
   
There are also drawings by the nineteenth-century German artist Ludwig Thiersch, donated by the artist to XAE in 1893. There are about 150 preparatory drawings for church wall-paintings, mostly in charcoal.  Finally a particularly precious part of the collection is made up of the archive of drawings by the painter Spyridon Chatzigiannopoulos, which he bequeathed to XAE in 1905.
   
The Byzantine and Christian Museums Collection of Anthivola (Cartoons) and Drawings, one of the most important and largest of its kind, contains around 3,500 works. Most of them are drawn in charcoal or ink, occasionally paint, while others have written pointers as to iconography or instructions regarding colour.
   
The preparatory drawings for icons and the cartoons (i.e. working drawings belonging to Post-Byzantine painters) were only made into a collection in the 1960s, when 3,000 new acquisitions arrived in the Museum as a result of purchases, most of which date to between the seventeenth and the nineteenth century and come from the workshop of the Corfiot icon painter Nikolaos Kourtelesis.
   
The oldest drawing in the collection, a fifteenth- or sixteenth-century sheet from Sinai, depicting the Entombment and the Assumption of Saint John the Divine, came to the Museum in 1962 in the form of a donation from the Museums then Director Georgios Sotiriou.  The donation, made to the Christian Archaeological Association (XAE) by the Constantinopolitan intellectual and physician Alexandros Paspatis in 1890, now also forms part of the Museums Collection.  It consists of a series of watercolours and drawings of Byzantine churches and monasteries in Constantinople made by Paspatis himself and A. Manarakis in the late nineteenth century.
   
There are also drawings by the nineteenth-century German artist Ludwig Thiersch, donated by the artist to XAE in 1893. There are about 150 preparatory drawings for church wall-paintings, mostly in charcoal.  Finally a particularly precious part of the collection is made up of the archive of drawings by the painter Spyridon Chatzigiannopoulos, which he bequeathed to XAE in 1905.
   
The Byzantine and Christian Museums Collection of Prints contains 550 important works: engravings and etchings, lithographs, coloured lithographs, printed antimensia and wood-cuts, all dating to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  The spread of the printing press and the availability of printed matter encouraged the widespread use of prints.
   
The first prints to come to the Museum depict the monasteries of Mount Athos and come from the collection of the Christian Archaeological Society (XAE).  Yet the majority, 275 altogether, were acquired much later in 1963, through a purchase from the Corfiot G.N. Kourtelesis.  The Museums Collection of Prints documents the widespread circulation of prints in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially in the Balkans, as well as their close relationship with contemporary painting, given that they often bear the signatures of well-known painters and printmakers, such as Nikolaos of Chios, Giannantonio Zuliani and Christophoros Zefar, among others.