By Ovidiu Olar | “N. Iorga” Institute of History of the Romanian Academy, Bucharest
In the late 12th century, the theologian Peter of Poitiers († 1205) created a historical summary of Christ’s genealogy, written in Latin. Systematizing centuries of biblical exegesis, he designed the composition as a pedagogical tool. The result – a compilation of biblical history from the Creation of the World to the Ascension of Christ – proved enormously popular and influential throughout the late medieval and early modern periods. Continuously extended, this representative of “diagrammatic chronicles” (Andrea Worm) survived in several versions and languages, transmitted by dozens of manuscripts and rolls. Some of the items belong to the deluxe category; others are of a lower quality.
On the one hand, Peter of Poitiers’ compendium and its subsequent variants have generated an extensive scholarly literature. On the other hand, the genealogical chronicles of the Bible produced in 18th-century Southeast Europe have attracted limited attention. There are at least five such genealogies: three codices (in Athens [National Library of Greece (Εθνική Βιβλιοθήκη της Ελλάδος – henceforth EBE) Greek MS. 1892], Bucharest, and Kyiv) and two long rolls (in Bucharest and Princeton). Three are in Romanian and two in Greek. All of them start with the Creation and end with the Ascension, but the text and the miniatures vary.
BAR ms. rom. 5896 is a mid-18th century manuscript currently held in the Bucharest branch of the Library of the Romanian Academy (Biblioteca Academiei Române – henceforth BAR). It is made of several sheets of paper glued together to form a continuous horizontal scroll (1059 cm long and 44.5 cm high), which is kept in its original metallic tube. This is a “genealogy from Adam to Christ”, which depicts the most important characters of the Bible and the contemporary rulers up to the Judean king Herod Agrippa I (r. 41–44). The text, written in Romanian with Cyrillic script, runs from left to right. The roll is lavishly illustrated. It contains 504 medallion portraits in quill and ink color painting: the first, representing God the Father, has a diameter of 65 mm; the one representing Christ Emmanuel has a diameter of 46 mm; all the rest, including the group portrait of the 70 translators of the Septuagint, have a diameter of 30 mm. There are also seven drawings, including the Tabernacle surrounded by cities and the Tower of Babel. Finally, the depictions of the Nativity, Crucifixion, and Resurrection are placed within medallions with a diameter of 46 mm.
The roll has been created by priest Flor (“Popa Flor”), most probably in Bucharest, the capital city of Wallachia, where the learned ecclesiast acted as teacher and head of the princely school at the St. George-the-Old Church (“Sfântul Gheorghe Vechi”). The item is not dated. However, Flor was a prolific translator from Greek and Church Slavonic, copyist, and scribe of the princely Wallachian chancellery; his activity can be continuously traced between (roughly) 1747 and April 1769. As a direct consequence, one can safely propose 1769 as a terminus ante quem.
BAR ms. rom. 5896 contains a genealogical chronicle from the Creation of the World to the Ascension of Christ. It focuses on the genealogy of Jesus, from Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, onwards; it presents in parallel the bloodlines of Cain (until the Flood), of Mary, the future Mother of God (starting with Nathan, the son of King David), and of the contemporary Judean, Aramean, Assyrian, Chaldean, Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman rulers. The structure follows closely the Bible and posits the existence of six ages of the World: the first period starts with Adam, while the last starts with Jesus.
It is generally assumed that the Bucharest roll is a copy of an early 18th-century work by the Metropolitan of Wallachia Antim Ivireanul (“the Iberian”), kept in Kyiv, in the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine (DA 379L). Entitled The Faces of the Old and New Testament (“Chipurile Vechiului și Noului Testament”), written in Târgoviște, dated 1 July 1709, and dedicated to the Wallachian prince Constantin Brâncoveanu (r. 1688–1714), this text corresponds indeed for the most part to the one by priest Flor. Yet the dedication is missing, the first part is completely different, and the form has morphed: instead of an in-folio with the genealogical list formatted top-to-bottom, we are now facing a roll with the genealogy running left-to-right. Therefore, in spite of all textual and iconographic similarities, the two genealogical chronicles are quite different. (The relationship, which seems very close, with the manuscript in Athens is yet to be addressed.)
They are by no means the only “Wallachian” representatives of the genre. Princeton Greek MS. 16 – a late 18th-century roll depicting the genealogy of the Savior, from the Creation (of Adam and Eve) to the Ascension (of Christ) – may also have originated in Wallachia. Longer and higher than the one by priest Flor (1373.4 x 55.5 cm), it combines several textual sources, such as the 12th-century Chronicle of Michael Glykas and the 18th-century works of Kaisarios Dapontes. Written in Greek and even more richly illuminated, with 562 illustrations, the roll runs left-to-right, from the top-down Genesis to the bottom-up Rise to the heavens.
What was the function of such rolls? For the moment, the answer remains elusive. They could have been intended as didactic tools for the students of the (Wallachian) princely schools: priest Flor was a teacher who trusted the educational value of the images (the seminal Compendium by Peter of Poitiers also had a pronounced didactic function). However, their deluxe nature makes this hypothesis the least probable. They might have been the result of an increased interest in sacred history, which went hand in hand with the desire to systematize, with the help of visual, diagrammatic strategies, all extant knowledge in the field: the explanatory texts are taken from different sources, such as the Bible, the apocrypha, the universal Byzantine and post-Byzantine chronicles. They may have mirrored the state of the art in the field of secular history, where the lists maintained a privileged status.
Did the rolls have a liturgical function? The thorough study of the textual fragments and of their relationship with the images will, undoubtedly, provide answers to questions like this. Yet irrespective of their intended role, BAR ms. rom. 5896 and Princeton Greek MS. 16 clearly mark a preference for a “modern” in form but “traditional” in content cartography of time. While Antim’s Faces of the Old and New Testament favors the “vertical time,” the later rolls depart from the “Tree” type of genealogies and fancy a “horizontal” approach. The preference given to the roll in the detriment of the codex is intriguing: it might have had apocalyptic undertones because it was believed that at the End of Time, the angels will roll up the roll of Time; it was definitely better suited to express the continuity of “human” time since the origins until the Redemption. Yet even more fascinating is the pronounced interest – understudied with respect to early modern Southeast Europe – in a type of (sacred) historical writing that combines text(s) and image(s) in order to deliver its Christian Bible-based message: the world was, is, and will forever be in God’s hands.
Situated at the crossroads between the East and the West, ruled by a Greek-speaking Orthodox elite fully integrated in the Ottoman state apparatus, and highly coveted by Austria and Russia alike, 18th century Wallachia offers remarkable examples of linguistic and artistic creativity. Due to the interplay between text (in Romanian or in Greek), image, and medium (codex or roll), as well as to their possible “Western” influences, the genealogical chronicles showcased above count easily among the most interesting ones.
Princeton Chronicle of Biblical History: https://catalog.princeton.edu/catalog/3600046
Antim Ivireanul. Opere [Works], edited by Gabriel Ștrempel, 239–321. Bucharest: Minerva, 1972.
This is the text edition of NLU DA 379L, BAR ms. rom. 5896 and of an 1847 copy of the latter (which shifts again to codex-format), kept at the Cernica Monastery.
Boghiu, (Arhimandrit) Sofian. Sfântul Antim Ivireanul și Mănăstirea Tuturor Sfinților [Saint Antim the Iberian and the All-Saints Monastery]. Bucharest: Editura Bizantină, 2005.
This is a facsimile edition of NLU DA 379L.
Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane. L’arbre des familles. Paris: Éditions de La Martinière, 2003.
A lavishly illuminated book on the genealogical imagery in Western Europe (particularly the family tree), designed for a larger audience.
Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane. L’ombre des ancêtres. Essai sur l’imaginaire médiéval de la parenté. Paris: Fayard, 2000.
A seminal study dedicated to the development of genealogical imagery in Western Europe, with a focus on the family tree.
Kotzabassi, Sofia, and Nancy Patterson Ševčenko (with the collaboration of Don C. Schemer), eds. Greek Manuscripts at Princeton, Sixth to Nineteenth Century. A Descriptive Catalogue. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, 186–191, fig. 209–215.
This is a detailed description – the first – of the “genealogical chronicle roll of the Bible” catalogued as Princeton Greek MS 16.
Petrovszky, Konrad. Geschichte schreiben im osmanischen Südosteuropa. Eine Kulturgeschichte orthodoxer Historiographie des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts. Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden, 2014.
An innovative and stimulating study, from the perspective of cultural history, of the Early Modern Southeast European Orthodox historiography.
Worm, Andrea. “Visualising History: The Rise of Pictorial Concepts in Twelfth-Century Chronicles.” In Romanesque and the Past: Retrospection in the Art and Architecture of Romanesque Europe, edited by John McNeill and Richard Plant, 243–264. London: Maney, 2013.
An analysis of the visual strategies used by Peter of Poitiers to systematize historical information (“diagrammatic layout”).