The class concerned the invention of the book, especially the illustrated book, as we know it during the late-antique period. The previous standard had been set by the Egyptians, who developed papyrus as a support for writing. They then glued the papyrus sheets together to form scrolls. This method was used by the Greeks and during the earlier Roman period. Papyrus is friable, a weakness abetted by frequent unrolling of the scrolls.
Parchment made from skins of animals emerged as a more durable support material. By the fourth century the codex became dominant replacing the scroll. This technique posed the issue of dual composition, verso and recto, at each opening--a potential not always well realized (as we saw with the Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux).
The pictorial material commonly employs the device of continuous narrative, seen in the reliefs of the Column of Trajan and (almost a millennium later) in the Bayeux Tapestry.
To permit some conclusions about the origins of the illustrated book, we examined three examples from the Hebrew Bible and three from the New Testament. Because of its poor condition, the Quedlinburg Itala leaf is hard to assess (but see the illustration in Nees). It is unique in showing four closely related scenes from the Book of Samuel. Flaking of the pigment discloses instructions to the illustrator: "Here paint this."
There are basically two schools concerning the origin and development of pictorial cycles. The first, headed by Kurt Weitzmann, holds that the artists were essentially conservative and that the pictorial recensions lead back to a single archetype, presumably an illustrated Septuagint.
However, supporting evidence has not emerged, and another school (supported e.g. by Lawrence Nees) holds that the artists were more creative, and that there is no single archetype. The instructions in the Quedlinburg leaf would seem to support the Nees position.
Badly burned in 1731, the fragments of th3e Cotton Genesis nonetheless attest a very rich cycle in this manuscript. Also rich is the imagery of the well-preserved Vienna Genesis, a purple manuscript of the sixth century. Here the scene of Rebecca and Eliezar is a notable example of continuous narration.
The Rossano Gospels is purple manuscript of the New Testament. Two elaborate scenes of Christ before Pilate suggest derivation from monumental frescoes or mosaics.
The Rabbula Gospels of 586 is an elaborate Syriac manuscript, with notable full-page scenes of the Crucifixion and the Ascension. The canon tables illustrate the architectural principle of the great arch embracing lesser ones, suggesting the concept of hierarchy.
St. Augustine's Gospel in Cambridge is a fragment of Luke. In addition to the narrative scenes, there is a large portrait of the evangelist, accompanied by his symbol, a winged bull.
These vari0us scenes are important because they mark the inception of a system of iconography, which (with various permutations) lasted until the time of the French Revolution.