edieval Book Painting in Slovakia


MEDIEVAL BOOK PAINTING IN SLOVAKIA MUST HAD AN OLD PRE-ROMANESQUE SLAVONIC TRADITION, presumably from the Celtic mission activity and from the literary legacy of the Byzantine apostles of Christianity, Cyril and Methodius. After the dissolution of the Greater Moravian Empire, this tradition did not become extinct, but it received a new character in the activity of the Benedictine order, which had been charged with the Christianization of the newly founded early feudal Hungarian state. The activity of early feudal monastery scriptoria was marked by the old Carlo-Ottonian tradition of book painting, and was linked in some ways with the production of German monastery centres in Fulda, St. Gallen, Regensburg and Salzburg. This oldest Benedictine book painting is only sporadically represented by works, the origin of which is debatable, although for a certain time they were on the territory of Slovakia, and could have originated here.

            In approximately the last third of the twelfth century, the Cistercian order took over the leading role in book painting, having established its monastery at Bratislava, as a filiation of the Monastery at Heiligenkreuz. In this period, the Cisterians even gained entry into the Hungarian royal chancery founded by Béla III., and the diplomatic script of royal documents of a calligraphic character was also introduced by the Cistercians into book painting. The Cistercian style of drawing also had a revolutionary influence on the embellishment of figural initials, but it did not assert itself in principle. Hence the influence of older Romance painted initials continued to be seen, with Italian work often affecting their character. This was especially true in Franciscan and Dominican monasteries, which maintained unbroken lively contact with their  home countries.

            The Cistercian Gothic style of drawing is represented in our memorabilia by three codices, which were most probably made in the Cistercian scriptorium in Bratislava sometime in the first third of the fourteenth century. The Cistercian origin and the international character of style of these works bring them close to the outstanding manuscripts of Queen Rejčka (Rixa), especially with her Vienna lectionary of 1316. A closer connection with the manuscripts of Queen Rejčka and with Czech painting is expressed in the Bratislava missal called the Missal of Wenceslas Ganois. Its first painter works in the spirit of the Rhine style of painting, but compiling simultaneously also Cistercian and Dominican motifs. The second painter of the Bible of Wenceslas Ganois, who worked on the codex in the last quarter of the fourteenth century, already stands more firmly on the soil of Czech painting, especially in his marginal decorations, which resemble the breviary of Grand Master Leo and the antiphonary of Arnošt of Pardubice.

The clergyman and illuminator Henrik Stephani de Westphalia, who was active at a small country parish in Chukarda (now called Malé Tŕnie), was more archaic than the second illuminator of the Bible of Wenceslas Ganois, which was completed in the last quarter of the fourteenth century. According to his own authentic notation, in 1377 he made a decorative missal for Canon John Emerici of Bratislava, now called the Albajulia Missal. The decoration of the missal is interesting evidence of the coalescence of motifs of older Anjou Hungarian book painting with the more recent motivist elements and typology of figures of Czech painting.

            An extraordinarily valuable group of illuminated codices of Bratislava origin can be placed in the years of Czech Queen Sophia´s sojourn in Bratislava. These codices are decorated completely in the spirit of Czech painting; however, there are certain deviations which made it necessary to consider individual works of this group to have been made in Bratislava. In this exceptional group there is    cod. lat. 216 by illuminator Michal of Trnava, remnants of the former in the urban book of Kremnica, and two missals made by the same artist. These last two missals remarkably resemble the decorated armorial deed of the city of Košice, issued in Bratislava in 1423. This documents has the author´s signet of illuminator John Hebenstreyt. If we concede the authenticity of this signet, John Hebenstreyt is possibly the author of the two missals and of the Košice armorial deed, and he is possibly identical with the painter John mentioned in the Bratislava urban protocols of the period.

            The influence of Czech book painting in the rest of Slovakia is proved in the Košice codex (cod. lat. 395) and in the Premonstratensian codex of Jasov in the decorative system of the naturalistic Czech acanthus. Czech influence is also evident in some canon sheets, presented in the lyrical emotionality of a soft style (,,Crucifixion“ from the missal of Hronský Beňadik, 1394; Gobilus´ ,,Crucifixion“ in the urban book of Banská Štiavnica, 1432; etc.). Finally, the pictorial principle of Czech painting is documented in the book of lectures of Nicholas Tudeschi Panormitanus in the Chapter of Spiš.

The art of illumination of the Bratislava painters of coats-of-arms, represented by a number of armorial deeds issued in Bratislava in the first half of the fifteenth century, may be regarded as evidence of the gradual new orientation of book painting towards Austrian work. Its most beautiful specimen is the duplicate of the armorial deed of Bratislava, issued together with the original in 1436. It shows remarkable resemblance  to the original, but it is work of another painter, probably one from Bratislava. Subsequent Bratislava book painting of the second  half of the fifteenth century follows in his style. The leading personality in the last third of the fiftenth century is the painter who worked for the Bratislava Canon Han de Wepp, or Ispar. If we accept the reliability of the marking of decorational addenda to the Albajulia missal made at the command of Han, the painter of these addenda, as well as of the large two-volume Gradual of Canon Han de Wepp, is M. Prenner. This painter came from Salzburg circuit of Ulrich Schreiner, Prenner´s style of book painting has semblance in the so-called Missal of Widow List and two missals very close to this one, called the Palkovič Missal and the Pottenberger Missal. All three are by one painter, who likes to repeat motifs characteristic of his work (reglet framing in two colours, dots with ceriphs, a flower with a long nose-like pistil, acanthus leaf with fine pearls at the tip). This painter is probably also the author of the missal in the Salzburg Studienbibliothek. As in the Salzburg memorabilia of book painting of that period, we find in the work of M. Prenner and of the painter of the Missal of Widow List, who is very close to Prenner, the routine use of contemporary graphic sheets as patterns for book paintings.

            Among the memorabilia of medieval book painting, Eastern Slovakia is represented less systematically, and, basically also by fewer works. The oldest existing specimen from the region is the Dominican codex of Košice. Its decoration was evidiently based on a Bologna design of the fourteenth century, perhaps in one of the provincial monasteries, or in Košice itself.

            At the end of the 14th century Czech orientation in book painting became quite widespread in East Slovakia, being introduced by the scholars of this region educated in Prague, and later, also by the presence of Czech soldiers on the territory of Slovakia.

            Incunabula with hand painted initials and marginal decorations were very typical for the Eastern Slovak region in the last third of the fifteenth century. The Bardejov copy of the incunabulum of Ferraris´Completie (published in Venice in 1473) must be pointed out, with illustrations interesting in view of their subjects; there is the scene of a serf before a court, and the unfinished pen and ink drawing of a scribe at work, probably executed by the rubricator Astexanus.

            A valuable notation about an illuminator was found in an incunabulum of the Decretalia by Gratianus (published in Venice in 1474), deposited in the Chapter of Spiš. The inscription names the author of painted double initials as Vinzentius Roder-Czinteke. For a strikingly large number of painted double initials explaining the text of the canon matrimonial law, the illuminator used graphic patterns.

The last works of medieval book painting in Slovakia originated in the Iagello period and are marked by the Central European creation of that period. In Bratislava, it is the large Gradual of the capitulary cathedral from the end of the fifteenth century. In Košice, almost twenty years later (1518) a certain, probably local, master painted a two-volume Gradual of large format. It is almost certain that the artist was familiar with landscape painting of the Danube school and in his work connected on to the contemporary work of Eastern Slovakia, especially with the painter of the cycles of St. Augustine the Hermit. The exuberant floral ornamentalism of Iagello book painting has also found expression in numerous book decorations of the learned Bachelor John Blutfogel who represents the type of amateur painter of good quality. He painted almost exclusively marginal decorational floral tendrils, and his own figural work, represented by ten small initials in a book of prayers, originated from woodcuts in the Poetica Astronomica by Hyginus.

            In conclusion we would like to point out that we do not consider our brief review as final, and our research in the field of medieval book painting, as complete by any means. On the contrary, it was our aim to stimulate the production of other works to throw light on the complicated problem of the history of art in Slovakia in its heterogenous system and synthetic unity.