Produced at the great Burgundian abbey of Cluny during an artistic golden age, the Parma Ildefonsus is an outstanding example of Romanesque book art. Lavishly decorated with a total of thirty-five narrative illuminations and several large interlace initials, and enhanced with gold, silver, and purple throughout, this codex was sent as a gift to Spain where it escaped the purging of the library of Cluny during the French Revolution. Remarkably well-preserved, the Parma Ildefonsus is a unique witness to scriptorial arts at one of the greatest monastic centers in Western Europe.
The main text of the manuscript is the De Virginitate Beatae Mariae, a treatise on the Virginity of Mary written by St. Ildefonsus, bishop of Toledo (ca. 607–667). Also included are two Lives of St. Ildefonsus, one composed by Julian and another by Cixila, both bishops of Toledo, and the mid-ninth-century colophon by the scribe Gomez for Bishop Godescalc of Le Puy.
A Jewel of Romanesque Illumination
The decorative program of the Parma Ildefonsus is exceptionally extensive. It includes three full-page author portraits opening the texts of, respectively, Julian, Ildefonsus, and Gomez, and six full-page depictions of Ildefonsus praying, debating, or writing his treatise. Other illustrations include sixteen half-page vignettes and ten bust-length portraits of Old Testament prophets and patriarchs, and several interlace initials.
Each page of the manuscript is enclosed in an elaborate frame of foliate or geometric motifs between gold, silver, and purple bands derived from the treasure-books made for Carolingian and Ottonian rulers. The majority of the illustrations were executed by an artist trained in an Ottonian tradition whose hand has been identified in an illumination from the fragmented Gradual of Cluny (Paris, BnF, MS lat. 1087).
A second artist, responsible for the last two full-page illustrations, worked in an Italo-Byzantine style also found in the Lectionary of Cluny (Paris, BnF, MS nouv. acq. lat. 2246). The writing and illumination of manuscripts were an important feature of spiritual life at Cluny, and consequently the monastic artists represented many of the figures in the illustrations, including Ildefonsus himself, in Cluniac dress and tonsure.
Made by Monastic Hands
Every full page of text is made up of nineteen long lines of text written in a balanced form of minuscule with few ligatures. The main scribe was an active member of the scriptorium and contributed to the Annals of Cluny (Paris, BnF, MS nouv. acq. lat. 1497) and the Lectionary of Cluny.
A second hand, writing in Roman rustic capitals, is responsible for the rubrics and inscriptions. Nine large foliate initials in gold and silver on a purple ground, together with opening words written in gold majuscules, introduce the major divisions of the text. The text is adapted admirably to the varied format of the illuminations, pointing to collaboration between scribes and illuminators.
A Luxurious Gift for an Archbishop or King
Remarkably luxe and small-scale, the Parma Ildefonsus is a personal book intended as a gift to a high-ranking individual. This recipient may have been Bernard of Sauvetot, a Spanish Cluniac abbot and Archbishop of Toledo; or the Castillian King Alfonso VI.
The manuscript was definitely in Spain by 1200, when it served as a model for a copy known to have been held at the Cathedral of Toledo in the 14thcentury (Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, MS 10087). It was sold by Matteo Luigi Canonici to Paolo Maria Piciaudi, the first librarian of the Biblioteca Palatina, in 1765, and has remained in Parma since.