Coronation Gospels of Vratislav II by unknown artist

Unknown artist

Coronation Gospels of Vratislav II (The Vyšehrad Codex; The Coronation Codex), 1070–86, Illumination on parchment, 41.5 x 32 cm, Národní knihovna České republiky, Prague, MS XIV.A.13, fol. 4r, Photo courtesy of National Library of the Czech Republic

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Chosen by God

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Laura Llewellyn

Against the customary law, a small withered rod bears fruit (Contra ius solitu[m] parit arida virgula fructum).

The miracle of Aaron’s sprouting rod appears with this inscription above it on the fourth folio of the celebrated Coronation Gospels of Vratislav II of Bohemia. It is presented together with three other Old Testament scenes (two of them on the verso, representing the closed gate of Jerusalem from Ezekiel 44:2 and the Tree of Jesse drawn from Isaiah 11). It is preceded by three folios that include portraits of the Evangelists followed by a complete genealogical tree of Jesus Christ, and immediately followed by Matthew’s Gospel with its lengthy description of Christ’s lineage from Abraham. Sandwiched between imagery and texts which are specifically concerned with Christ’s ancestry, the four Old Testament types are then clearly to be understood as Christ’s forebears.

In the lower register of folio 4r, Aaron’s rod, placed centrally among the others before the sanctuary’s altar, has miraculously bloomed, with new shoots along its length and buds sprouting at its apex. Numbers 17 specifies that Moses alone took the rods into the sanctuary and brought them out again the following day to reveal the miracle. But here the twelve heads of the Israelite tribes look on with their hands, where visible, raised in wonder. The haloed hand of God emerging from a cloud suggests that the miracle is taking place before their very eyes, though the triple-arched structure that subdivides the scene ensures that they remain outside the bounds of this hallowed space.

The conflation of the two moments—the overnight flowering of the rod and the discovery of the miracle the next morning—facilitates a parallel with the scene of Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3–4) in the register above where, again, God’s hand appears from on high. This repeated motif, along with the inscriptions, emphasizes the miraculous nature of the events and, especially, the concept of divine election.

An enthroned halo-less figure, depicted in the historiated initial on folio 68r of the manuscript, receives the same blessing from on high. He has sometimes been interpreted as King Vratislav himself, for whom this manuscript was made. Newly crowned as King of Bohemia, he is shown as an inheritor of the legacy of the divinely elected leaders of the Old Testament.

 

References

Hayes Williams, Jean Anne. 2000. ‘The Earliest Dated Tree of Jesse image: Thematically reconsidered’, Athanor 18: 17