The Parma Ildefonsus is one of the most important Romanesque manuscripts from Cluny Abbey, France. The codex, also known as Ildefonso da Toledo, was written and illuminated between the early 11th and 12th century and features 35 beautifully and elaborately made illuminations, 7 full-page, 16 half-page, and 10 bust-length portraits of Prophets, and several initials.
Written in Latin, it was created between 1088 and 1109 in the Cluny Scriptorium where the copying of texts played a great part in the life of the monks of the abbey. This codex is a copy of the De Virginitate Sanctae Mariae treatise written by Saint Ildefonsus and it appears to have been transcribed for a Spanish destination which is confirmed by its subsequent history.
Combination of Two Contrasting Artistic Traditions
The iconographic apparatus is exceptionally complex for all 111 ff. feature decorations with gold, silver, and purple frames characterized by geometrical meanders and stylized leafy motifs.
Two artists worked on the decorative scheme of the Parma Ildefonsus. The majority of the illuminations is the work of painter whose artistic skills flourished and developed in German lands. In addition to his deep and rich palette, with a major use of colors such as gold, silver, and purple, his silhouettes present a heavy black outline.
The second artist was responsible for only two illuminations (ff.102r., 102v.), illustrating the colophon and therefore known as the Colophon Painter. This painter comes from another artistic tradition, often incorrectly labelled as Byzantine, for his artistic training must have taken place in Latium, Italy.
The beauty of this masterpiece is the combination of two contrasting artistic traditions from the same age.
The Mistery of the Commissioner of the Parma Ildefonsus
The recipient of such masterpiece remains unknown although a potential candidate has been put forward: Bernard of Agen or Bernard of Le Sauvetat, Archbishop of Toledo and close ally of the abbot of Cluny. What seems certain is that the manuscript was made for a person particularly devoted to the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Although it was originally intended as a unique copy, the codex was subsequently used as an iconographic model for at least one other Toledan manuscript of the 13th century, the Ms.10087 of the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid.
The text is distributed over 19 lines and it is an exquisite example of Carolingian minuscule, generally featuring a contrast of light and heavy strokes. It is worth noticing the use of some ligatures such as st, and the use of long s in addition to the standard one.