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The Josua Roll
One of a kind Byzantine art of the Royal court in scroll form
Rom, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Cod. Vat. Ms. Pal. graec. 431, Byzanz, 10th century



Further Pictures


One of the most magnificent surviving manuscripts of the Imperial Court School of Byzantium is the Joshua Roll now kept in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome. It was made in the 10th century, at the time of the so-called Macedonian Renaissance, and presents the Old Testament Book of Joshua in an illustrated cycle resembling a frieze, executed in grisaille painting.

These illustrated book rolls could well have been derived from classical triumph columns whose artistic contents were rediscovered at the time when our manuscript was made. The Joshua Roll is generally thought to go back to Greco-Roman forms and painting. It was executed in two or three stages in the 10th century by artists of the Imperial School who worked in a team and conferred to it the appearance that we know today.
Both drawings and paintings contained in the book are the work of different hands, and we may rightly assume that the colouring was added at a later stage. The text is a mixture of Greek majuscule and minuscule forms, containing extracts from relevant Bible scenes as well as some additions to ensure a better understanding of the individual episodes.

An exceptional deluxe manuscript

The Joshua Roll is absolutely unique in its kind and unrivalled in the whole world. Although little is known about the occasion for which this monumental manuscript of the Old Testament Book of Joshua was made, it seems likely that the codex was intended to glorify the military success of the Byzantine people in the Holy Land. For the first time after an extended period of defence, they were finally able to reassert themselves against the Arabs in the 10th century.
Although a small part is missing at the beginning of the Book of Joshua, the central piece of this sixth book of the Old Testament – according to the current counting method – has survived in a complete and full version. Its Greek Bible texts correspond to the Septuagint.

The facsimile edition

All 15 segments of the manuscript are faithfully reproduced in the original format of approx. 80 x 32 cm (total length 10.6 m), including the grisaille illumination consistently used throughout. The individual segments are pasted together to form a roll which is mounted on two wooden supports. The roll comes in a solid, cloth-covered case which can be folded open for easy use. The edition is limited to 800 numbered copies.
The commentary volume includes over 90 pages and contains a detailed explanation of all miniatures as well as a comprehensive description of the fascinating historical background of the Byzantine Empire.

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