Manuscripts, miniatures and precious metal bindings

Ever since they first appeared, books written by hand on parchment or paper, lay or religious, were frequently adorned with various decorative elements - ornate letters, vignettes, borders, title pages, symbolic and figurative representations, monochrome or polychromatic - loosely known as miniatures, a term derived from the name for the red lead oxide, also known as minium, initially used in the making of such decorations. Although later other substances that give colour, mineral or vegetal, were used for the same purpose, the ornaments made in such ways continued to be known as miniatures, but with the passage of time, the term came to be used only to describe the figurative illustrations of the manuscripts, afterwards extrapolating it to all figurative representations of small dimensions, regardless of the technique being used in their making.

Because the creation of such manuscripts was a very scrupulous, long and costly work, every copy being unique, they had to last as long as possible. In order to endure the passing of time, as well as other factors that caused deterioration, they were bound in wooden covers, dressed in velvet, leather or precious metal plates, which were decorated as well - by stamping, engraving, chiselling or hammering - with various ornamental geometrical and vegetal motifs, with religious scenes and saint figures, with brief liturgical or votive inscriptions, with incrustations in enamel and precious stones.

The oldest manuscripts of Romanian origins that have survived until nowadays are written in Greek and Slavonic, the latter being the official language of the Christian Orthodox religion in the Romanian Principalities, Bulgaria, Russia and Serbia during the Middle Ages.

Written on parchment sheets, on one or two columns, with half—inch small, medium or large lettering, derived from the Roman capital letters, the Slavonic-Romanian manuscripts of the 13th and the 15th centuries contain exclusively liturgical texts that are compulsory in officiating religious services, copied after the most common prototypes found in the Orthodox world.

In the following two centuries, a traditional style is developed, especially in Moldavia, in the context of a general, never-before encountered, development of the Romanian art and culture in this historical province, supported by the rulers Alexander the Good, Stephen the Great and Peter Rares.

The scriptorium of Putna Monastery was set up in the very year the church was built (1466). It soon became the greatest one in all Moldavia, its creative forces being stimulated and protected at all times by the genius of Stephen the Great himself. Its manuscripts gradually became, like its embroideries, famous in all southeastern Europe.

The filigreed coat of arms found on the 15th to 17th century manuscripts at Putna are very interesting, in that they provide the only means by which the date of certain anonymous texts, of unknown origins, can be fairly acertained - by comparing them. By looking at their sheets in bright light, one can see about seventy such filigreed marks, representing a great variety of images: aurochs’ heads, moving aurochs, two-headed eagles, wild boars, lion busts, running horses, crossed hammers, crenellated towers, bishop and princely crowns, banners and shields, amphoras, bells, scissors, hearts, flowers, stars, hands, etc., all of them stylized in various degrees. The aurochs’ head, for instance, which appears most frequently, is stylized in over ten distinct ways, and the wild boar in almost as many.

It must be mentioned in the end that two of the zoomorphic motifs that are stylized in the filigreed manuscripts of Putna are frequently found in the leather that dresses the covers of some books. They are the moving aurochs and the two-headed or single-headed eagles, disposed in rhombus-like or circular successions, either separately - on the covers of different books -, or together, on the same book cover.