Theophilus Presbyter  

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Theophilus Presbyter (approx. 1070-1125) was a Benedictine monk and author of a Latin text containing detailed descriptions of various medieval arts. The collection of his writings is designated Schedula diversarum artium ("List of various arts") or De diversibus artibus ("On various arts") and was written between 1100 and 1120. The oldest handwritten copies of the work are found in Vienna (Austrian National Library, Codex 2527) and in Wolfenbüttel (Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. Gud. Lat. 69 2°). Gotthold Ephraim Lessing rediscovered the document when he worked as librarian in Wolfenbüttel.

Theophilus' Schedula allows detailed insights into the techniques used in the applied arts in the high Middle Ages. The work is divided into three volumes. The first covers the production and use of painting and drawing materials (painting techniques, paints, and inks), especially for illumination of texts and painting of walls. The second deals with the production of stained glass and techniques of glass painting, while the last deals with various techniques of goldsmithing. It also includes an introduction into the building of organs. Theophilus contains perhaps the earliest reference to oil paint. The work has been translated into English, French, Polish, Hungarian, German, Italian, Japanese, Bulgarian, and Russian, mostly in the 19th and 20th centuries.

It has been suggested (particularly by Eckhard Freise) that Theophilus is the same person as the artisan monk Roger of Helmarshausen. Roger appears to have come from Stavelot Abbey in the Meuse River region, was active as an artist and author between 1100 and 1107 in St. Pantaleon's church in Cologne, and moved to Helmarshausen Abbey in 1107. The identity of the two men has been argued among researchers for some time, but Freise's conclusions have not yet been accepted by all researchers.

Theophilus, as the author of a "handbook", has been described as a mere theorist, but this view is currently in the minority: Theophilus' treatise is in fact clearly the work of a practicing metalworker and is also very reliable on painting.


  • De diversis artibus or Schedula diversarum artium (in three books, date controversial but ca. 1125)


Two editions of Theophilus's work in English:

  • Dodwell, C.R. The Various Arts. De Diversis Artibus. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986
  • Hendrie R. An Essay upon Various Arts in three Books by Theophilus called also Rugerus. London, 1847, 1961

A good English translation:

  • Hawthorne, J.G. and C.S. Smith Theophilus: On Divers Arts. University of Chicago Press, 1963; reprinted New York: Dover Publications 1979

Reference in English:

  • White, Lynn Theophilus redivivus. Technology and Culture 5, 1964, 224-233; reprinted in Medieval Religion and Technology, University of California Press, 1978.

The following references are in German:

  • Brepohl, E. Theophilus Presbyter und das mittelalterliche Kunsthandwerk. Cologne, 1999. (2 volumes).
  • Freise, E. "Roger von Helmarshausen in seiner monastischen Umwelt". In Frühmittelalterliche Studien, 15, 1981.
  • Ilg, A. (Editor). "Theophilus Presbyter. Schedula diversarum artium". In Quellenschriften für Kunstgeschichte, volume 7. Vienna, 1874.
  • Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim. Vom Alter der Ölmalerey aus dem Theophilus Presbyter. Berlin, 1774.
  • Theobald, W. Technik des Kunsthandwerks im 10. Jh. Des T. Schedula Diversarum Artium, Berlin, 1933, 1953 and 1983. (Includes translations and explanations of sections of the work.)

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