Miroslav Gospel – the 12th Century Serbian Manuscrpt
Miroslav Gospel represents the oldest and the most valuable Serbian Cyrillic manuscript. According to the inscription found in the last page of the book, this precious artwork was created during the ninth decade of the 12th century, and it was commissioned by the ruler of Hum, the Duke Miroslav. The inscription also mentions the name of “disciple Gligory”, who was, most probably, the author of miniatures in the manuscript. It is presumed that the manuscript was commissioned for the Episcopal church of Saint Peter in Bijelo Polje on the river Lim, which was built and bestowed upon by the Duke Miroslav. Miroslav, whose brother was the famous Serbian ruler Stefan Nemanja, governed the province of Hum, whose territory is more or less equivalent to the present-day Herzegovina.
Contents of the Miroslav Gospel testify to the fact that it was conceived as a gospel book, which means that it was utilized for the liturgical purposes. Texts in the manuscript are sequenced in such manner to correspond with the church calendar, which facilitated heir reading in services throughout the year.
The text is written in black ink, and divided in two columns per page. The majority of the titles are written in red ink. The Miroslav gospel contains 296 illuminations, which were first outlined in ink, and the painted with brush with red, golden, yellow and white colors, and decorated with gold. All flags in the book, except for the first which contains the representations of the evangelists John, Luke and Mark topped by arches, are of simple design and were drawn in ink. Initials in the gospel greatly vary among themselves, beginning with the geometrically ornamented ones, through the ones composed of combined geometrical and floral motives, to those consisting of parts of real or fantastic animals entwined with floral elements. In addition to these, there are numbers of initials containing human figures. The most renowned miniatures, apart from the flag with the Evangelists, are the initial letter “V” (in Cyrillic: B) with the Evangelist Mark, another letter “V” with Alexander the Great. There is also a letter “P” initial with two birds, which were used in designing the logo of the National Museum in Belgrade.
Artistically and iconographically, the Miroslav Gospel’s painting combines the Romanesque style and the Byzantine tradition. Precisely for that reason, it is believed that the scriptoria of the central Italy might have been a source of influence. The illuminator used the line and resounding combinations of contrasting colors reds and greens, as well as yellow and gold for lightening, as main means of his artistic expression.