A VERY MINIATURE RUSSIAN

Passional, Manuscript on Paper.

Russia, n.d., early to mid C17th

£12,500

50x40mm (maximum dimensions), text c. 36x25mm. 119 ll. I⁸ (-I1-3) II⁸, III10, IV-XV⁸, signatures mid/lower margin: since the calendar begins on the verso of the first leaf (recto blank) it is most likely that the first three ll. not present in the first gathering were blank; two or three ll missing from end (last days of August). Eight to eleven lines per page, running titles. Dates in outer margins. Small, informal semiuncial Cyrillic script, tiny but precise. Text in brownish black, contrasting red for monthly headings, initials, running titles and marginal numerals, where red has faded overwritten in black. First leaf with 2 paper flaws, original so not affecting text, lower outer corner of this and next two ll worn with slight loss, variable finger soiling to same corner throughout but never impairing legibility, astonishingly well margined and in general clean and good. In a simple, rustic binding, of varnished cloth over wooden boards, leather spine (cracked) over three raised bands, lower board holed for probably leather fastening. Entirely unrestored.

This pocket calendar (svjatcy) indicates the saint or saints commemorated, or feast celebrated (according to the annual cycle of fixed feasts) on every day throughout the year, beginning on 1st September.  Although most Church Slavic texts are in small folio, it is not so uncommon for this text to be produced as a miniature manuscript; however, this example is particularly small.  The forms of some names (e.g. заха́рїи, ма́рїи, нико́лы) show that the manuscript was written by Old Believers, a section of the Russian church who rejected the liturgical reforms introduced by Patriarch Nikon in the middle of the seventeenth century.  This produced a violent reaction against them on the part of the authorities with very active persecution from the 1680s, and they did not receive full toleration until 1905, enjoying it only until the Revolution introduced a new repression of all forms of religious practice.  As well as carefully preserving their liturgical traditions as they had been immediately before the reforms, the Old Believers carried on the traditions of the Russian manuscript unchanged from the middle of the seventeenth century, not only in terms of content, but also their techniques of production. Surviving examples are now rare. We have not been able to locate the manufacture of this charming little ms. but after 1685 most Old Believers were found in Lithuania, Pomors in the far north, Kursk and the Urals, and Siberia and the Far East. In 1905 they represented about 10% of the Russian population. A need for secrecy as well as portability may have determined the dimensions of this ms. 

The Paul M. Fekula collection, the largest collection of such material to come to the market in the West (with 37 manuscripts, catalogued in M. Matejic, Slavic Manuscripts from the Fekula Collection, 1983), was sold by Sotheby’s in November 1990, and contained only a single so-called “miniature” manuscript (Fekula MS 505, lot 82 in the sale), which was twice the height of the present book. In fact, the present tiny volume compares favourably with the smallest miniature Western manuscripts to ever be offered for sale. It is slightly larger than the Book of Hours sold by Sotheby’s, 18 June 1991, lot 155 (37mm. by 23mm.), but is smaller in height at least than the Priuli Hours, sold Sotheby’s, 20 June 1995, lot 97 (43mm. by 30mm.) and the Hours of Saint Francis, sold by the same house, 6 July 2000, lot 86 (50mm. by 34mm.). In addition, it is smaller than the British Library’s smallest Book of Hours (Additional MS. 58280; C. de Hamel, History of Illuminated Manuscripts, 1986, p.172, with life-size plate, measuring 54mm. by 40mm.), and is smaller than any in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (according to Leroquais, Livres d’Heures, 1927). Miniature books command fascination, and were the subject of an exhibition in the Grolier Club and Boston Public Library in 2007 (Bromer and Edison, Miniature Books, 4000 Years of Tiny Treasures).

Zernova, A.S.  Knigi kirillovskoj pečati, izdannye v Moskve v XVI–XVII vekach: svodnyj katalog, Moskva, 1958

Karataev, I.P., Opisanie slavjano-russkich knig, napečatannych kirillovskimi bukvami, t.I: s 1491 po 1652 gg., S.-Peterburg, 1883.

L2154

Print This Item Print This Item