Codex Argenteus: the mysterious Gothic Silver Bible

Codex Argenteus from Uppsala University Library

The codex set the standard for future book formats that live in on modern times. Some are peculiar, like Codex Seraphinianus, but Codex Argenteus is the bible of Gothic Germany.

What is Codex Argenteus?

Codex Argenteus is a 6th-century book containing a Gothic translation of the Bible from the 4th century. To be clear, I’m not talking about the modern gothic subculture. The Goths were an East Germanic people who helped bring down the Western Roman Empire.

But back to the book. Codex Argenteus preserved the Gothic language in the best way possible – via a translation of the most famous text in human history. Its creation started in Ravenna, Italy. The city was the capital of the Western Roman Empire at the time and King Theoderic the Great wanted to make it a metropolis. Ravenna became the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom after the Empire’s demise; a Bible translated into the kingdom’s language seemed fitting.

Who wrote it?

A bishop called Ulfilas (or Wulfila as he was known in Gothic) was originally attributed as the sole translator. But we now know Codex Argenteus was translated by multiple scholars supervised by the bishop. Ulfilas was a Goth and developed the Gothic alphabet, loosely based on an amalgamated Greco-Runic alphabet.

The empire fell in 476 and Theoderic died in 526. The Codex disappeared with him and stayed that way for centuries. It was then found in the 16th century on a library shelf in Werden, Germany. Occult-obsessed Rudolf II began collecting books for his court in Prague and select “Argenteus” as one of them.

The Silver Bible travels to Sweden

A page from Codex Argenteus
A page from Codex Argenteus

It stayed there for about 70 years before Sweden invaded Prague and took the Silver Bible with it. Codex Argenteus then became a part of Queen Christina’s library. But a few years later, Queen Christina converted to Catholicism and left for Rome after abdicating her throne. Her librarian went with her and she paid him in books as she didn’t have any money. The Gothic Bible changed hands once more.

Sweden’s new king, Charles X Gustav got his brother-in-law, Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie, to speak to Christina’s librarian (a Dutch scholar called Isaac Vossius), and he bought the Silver Bible for 400 marks (about £12,300 in today’s money).

Codex Argenteus, stolen and returned

But did it stay in the possession of the Swedish royal family for good? Of course not. In 1995, it was stolen by two men in gas masks. Authorities recovered Codex Argenteus a month later but the thieves were never caught. It now resides in an annexe to Carolina Rediviva, Uppsala University’s main library. And a bulletproof glass box protects it this time.

Unfortunately, today only 56% of its original 336 pages remain. They were also dyed purple – talk about regal. It was expensive to do this in the 6th century, exclusively for emperors. Codex Argenteus is a well-travelled book and an enduring bastion of a lost language.

The Silver bible online?

Wulfila didn’t want the Gothic language to stay within the confines of Codex Argenteus. He wanted to spread the text and keep the language alive that way. And now anyone can read the book.

David Landau helped put the 1927 edition of the Codex online and you can read it via alvin-portal.org.

(Main image from Uppsala University Library)

5 ways skateboarding culture inspired modern art

Skateboard art

Picture a modern art museum. Perhaps one like MoMA with all those white paintings nobody understands. Now think of skateboarding culture. How well do you think those worlds complement each other? Very well, in fact.

Artists like Ai Weiwei and Andy Warhol have lent their artistry to skateboards. From what started out as a niche collaboration became a money venture; according to CNBC, Sotheby’s sold a collection of nearly 250 Supreme skate decks to Carson Guo for $800,000. Oh, and he’s 17. I wish I had that kind of money.

But the important number today isn’t 17 or 800,000 – it’s 5. Because I’ve chosen 5 examples of modern artists who’ve inspired skateboarding culture. Or how skateboarding culture has influenced 5 modern artists. I don’t think the order really matters so let’s check them out.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Demons

It wouldn’t be an art-related Cultrface article without mentioning Basquiat. The neo-expressionist painted and drew on any medium he wanted. But never skateboards. Decades after his death and his work adorns quite a few skate decks including Demon, on a set of 5 decks, and Skull, one of his most famous pieces (and my favourite), on a set of 3. Although Basquiat never explicitly worked with skateboards, his early days as SAMO© was certainly imbricated with skateboarding culture.

Shepard Fairey

Alva Frontside

One word: Obey. It’s primarily a verb but it’s synonymous with Shepard Fairey, the street artist who turned it into a clothing brand, based on his iconic André the Giant Has a Posse artwork. Fairey played a pivotal role in bringing skateboarding culture into the popular scene through art and clothing thanks to OBEY. His 2009 work Alva Frontside portrays skateboarder Tony Alva.

Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg skate deck set

Robert Rauschenberg was an artist who pioneered the “Combine painting” style involving the mix of painted canvases and objects. He was also seen as a forefather of pop art alongside Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. Much like Basquiat, he never worked directly with skate decks but they were posthumously printed onto a series of decks including his works Doubleluck, Watermelon Medley, and Sri Lanka VI.

Takashi Murakami

ComplexCon x Takashi Murakami skate deck

If you don’t already know Takashi Murakami for his solo art efforts, you might know him for his collaboration with Kanye West on his Graduation album artwork. The Japanese artist is more postmodern than modern but his style looks incredible on skate decks. They’re unique, vibrant, and exhilarating – just what you need for board used on death-defying air tricks, right?

Jim Houser

Jim Houser skate deck

The final artist in this list is Jim Houser. Born in Philadelphia in 1973, Houserʼs is well known in his city as well as galleries in Italy, France, Brazil, and Australia. Enjoi teamed up with Jim Houser to create a series of decks, showing a more whimsical side of skateboard culture compared to other artists. He also created a piece called The Line Up involving a collage of skateboards painted on a panel to complete the skate culture cycle.

Conclusion

Of course, there are way more than 5 artists involved with skateboarding culture in some way: Mark Gonzales, Skip Engblom, Banksy, and Keith Haring to name a few. Many had art printed on boards after death but the opposite was also true, as in their art depicted board life, whether it was on wheels or on the waves.

Postwar modern art, as it transformed into postmodern art, was the perfect aesthetic for youth culture to express itself. Skateboarding was just one such pastime that did the same. Graffiti played a part too. So it was only a matter of time before they all came together in some form and evolved through one another.

The impact of skateboarding on the arts and culture and vice versa is how countercultures thrive. Skate culture is for everyone, not just the men. It’s all about how far you can go before you land something big that’ll change the world.

(image courtesy of Tony Alter on Flickr, shared via CC by 2.0)