500 Years of the Skaryna Bible:
coloured books from the «Faust Study»
In some surviving Skaryna's books, illustrations are coloured. That means they were first printed in black ink, then coloured by hand. It is impossible to identify exactly where and when it was done. Nevertheless, after a careful examination of the hand-coloured plates, we can make some assumptions.
The biblical books prited by Skaryna, that are kept in St. Petersburg depositaries, has 20 coloured illustrations. Ten of them (seven engravings and three initials) are contained in the NLR's items, ten are stored in the Library of the Academy of Sciences (two initials, two headpieces and six engravings). Two initials differ from all the rest, they are painted with cinnabar at a later time. All other coloured plates are executed in one and the same manner. An artist applied green, pale brown, red and blue watercolors to existing images. In most cases, illustrations have been coloured very sparingly, the artist slightly tinted prints and ornaments of the headpieces. It can be seen that he worked as a professional. He tackled right colour choices: colour combinations for clothes, human body, architectural details look very good. In the Book of Ruth kept in the Library of the Academy of Sciences, the field on which reapers harvests a crop, is slightly tinted with green.
The uncoloured area on the engravings sometimes exceeds the area of the watercoloured parts, for example, on the plates «Skaryna before God» and the «Creation of the World». We find an analogue of this colouring in the copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493, in which only the main character of an image is marked by colour, and its environment remains black and white.
A print in the Skaryna's edition of the Book of Job is tinted very sparingly. In comparison with the hand-painted plates «Job» from the Augsburg edition of Schedel's Chronicle (1507) and the Venetian Bible (1506) in Czech, Skaryna's engraving is much more perfectly executed, its drawing technique is higher quality.
True, several thematic engravings of the Prague Skaryna Bible are coloured more intensively. These are the scene of the Solomon's Judgment, the Queen of Sheba and Judith and Alafernes.
A similar method of colouring was widely used in the European book printing during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. For comparison, we'll use two copies of Schedel's Chronicle – the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493 and the Augsburg edition of 1507, as well as the hand-coloured Venetian Bible of 1506. The technique of colouring and master's approaches are identical in all books. This is also confirmed by a copy of the Skaryna Bible from Görlitz, which, shortly after its printing, came to Germany and has been kept there until now. In 2014, the National Library of Belarus published its facsimile reproduction in a selection of books of the Skaryna Prague Bible. The Görlitz copy of the Book of Jesus Navin contains an engraving «Joshua Leads the Israelites across the Jordan», which is coloured like the engravings in the books from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania1.
At the same time, in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, there dominated a different approach to coloured images in handwritten books. The pictures were considered as sacred, equal to the icons of the Byzantine tradition and were executed in book illumination traditions. Subsequently, the development of printing in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (and also in Moscow Rus' and Ukraine) did not lead to a wide spread of coloured illustrations: tinted images appeared only occasionally.
It follows from the above observations that Francysk Skaryna (or his Vilnius clients) commissioned an artist from Prague to colour illustrations. Perhaps the master also performed drawings for the engravings and headpieces. We can assume that a contract with him covered not only the design, the drawing, the engraving but also the colouring of some book copies.