MINIATURIST, Greek
(active around 975 in Constantinople)

Paris Psalter

c. 975
Manuscript (Ms. gr. 139), 370 x 265 mm
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

The 8th and 9th centuries in the Byzantine Empire were characterized by the Iconoclastic Controversy, a dispute over the use of religious images (icons). The Iconoclasts (those who rejected images) objected to icon worship for several reasons, including the Old Testament prohibition against images in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:4) and the possibility of idolatry. The defenders of icon worship insisted on the symbolic nature of images and on the dignity of created matter. In 726 the Byzantine emperor Leo III took a public stand against icons; in 730 their use was officially prohibited. This opened a persecution of icon worshippers that was severe in the reign of Leo's successor, Constantine V (741-775). A synod held in 843 proclaimed the official reinstatement of icon veneration.

In late 9th century appeared splendid illustrated manuscripts marking the Macedonian Renaissance. The Paris Psalter is an outstanding example of the late classical influences that made the Byzantine art of the 10th century so remarkable. Refined technical skill is combined with an occasionally rather academic treatment of composition.

The Paris Psalter of 495 folios contains the psalter and odes, illustrated with 14 full-page miniatures. The miniatures have the appearance of small panels, painted in an illusionist classical style. The compositions are nearly square and framed by decorative borders. The most impressive miniature of the whole picture cycle is on folio 435v (shown here), depicting Isaiah at prayer.