The Paris Psalter, Constantinople, tenth century

Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Cod. graec. 139, fol. 435v

This magnificent miniature showing the prophet Isaiah at prayer, between Nyx, the night and Orthros, the young day, belongs to the world-famous book of psalms known as the Paris Psalter. It is an X century manuscript from Byzantium, from the metropolis Constantinople and was brought to Paris, only in the year 1557/9, by the ambassador Jean Hurault de Boistaillé. The Psalter takes its place in the history of art as a prominent witness to the “Macedonian Renaissance”. Following the extended and destructive crisis of Iconoclasm (726-843), when the worship of images and indeed all representation of religious figures were forbidden, and many artists fled from Byzantium, a revival of Byzantine art and science occurred in the IX century under the Macedonian emperors. With the approval of the Roman Court and Hellenistic, models appeared in art in a classical Rebirth, side by side with the Christian subject matter.

Even if we know that elements of this composition are derived from different sources, both, Antique and Christian, they are fused together in a harmonic reality. The impressionist painting style conveys the illusion of spatial and physical reality in a scene which, although “staged”, conveys a historic moment and its spiritual experience in a comprehensive way -the supreme truth of the prophetic mission.