Probably composed in Syria in the early 6th century, the Wiener Genesis (Vienna Genesis, or Codex Purpureus Vindobonensis) is the most ancient purple manuscript surviving today. The fragment of the Genesis (from the Greek Septuagint translation) is compiled in golden and silver ink, on a beautifully purple-dyed calfskin vellum. Each page contains a lavish miniature depicting the text, for a total of 48 well-preserved images. Scholars believe that the manuscript was originally composed of 192 pages (96 folios), each with a large miniature at the bottom.
Three of the most important "purpureus" manuscripts are the Wiener Genesis, the Codex Rossanensis, and the Codex Sinopensis and all three bear biblical texts. The manuscript from the National Library of Vienna is truly spectacular and contains a splendid cycle of biblical images.
The style of the miniatures is the common naturalistic style of the period. The images are rather complex in themselves: each of them depicts two or more episodes, and the characters may be represented more than once on the same page.
Interestingly enough, some illuminations contain episodes not described in the Genesis: the origin of these depictions may be from Jewish commentaries or widespread interpretations of the text.
- Die Wiener Genesis, hrsg. von Wilhelm von Hartel und Franz Wickhoff, in: Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses, 15/16, 1895; Neudr. Graz 1970.
- Weitzmann, Kurt. Late Antique and Early Christian Book Illumination. New York: George Braziller, 1977.
- Zimmermann, Barbara. Die Wiener Genesis im Rahmen der antiken Buchmalerei. Ikonographie, Darstellung, Illustrationsverfahren und Aussageintention. Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2003.