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The Picture Bible of King Louis - Luxury Edition
Radiant pictures in gold
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, Ms M.240, Paris, around 1230

CODICES SELECTI, Vol. CII

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Further Pictures

 

The sumptuous Bible made for Louis IX the Saint has been known for centuries under the name of Biblia rica (”rich Bible”) for its luxury decoration. It was transferred to Toledo during the lifetime of the King (1226–1270) where 8 folios were taken out for unknown reasons in the 16th century and rebound separately in leather. They have been kept in the Pierpont Library in New York since 1906.
The faithful facsimile reproduction of these eight leaves serves not only the purpose of conservation and protection of a unique original, but also provides scholars and bibliophile amateurs access to this œuvre, for those who are unable to visit the library in New York.
The overall impression of this Bible manuscript is that of a lavishly decorated picture book, which is accessible even without reading the accompanying text. This codex thus belongs to a type of manuscripts unique to the early 13th century, the so-called Moralized Bibles. These Bible manuscripts with their wealth of miniatures conveyed a whole universe of picture narrative in the Middle Ages.

A stately picture Bible

A characteristic feature of the Moralized Bibles of the early 13th century resides in the fact that both picture and text are always well balanced. Bible text and Bible commentary, Bible illustration and commentary illustration, appear side by side in a common context. As every text passage is explained by its own commentary, every Bible illustration is complete with a second, explanatory, moralizing illustration. Eight miniatures are thus displayed on each page, executed in bright colours on a gilded ground and all composed into medallions, forming blocks on artistically patterned grounds, and each flanked with four text sections in Latin on either side.
The first seven leaves of the manuscript now in New York show and explain 56 selected biblical scenes from the last Book of the Bible, the Revelation according to Saint John. Besides the Four Gospels, the Apocalypse belongs to the biblical books with the richest iconographic tradition.

A masterpiece of Gothic book illumination

The last folio of the New York fragment (fol. 8r) presents a special picture. The full-page, richly gilded miniature contains a twofold allusion to the manuscript: the royal couple in the upper half might be presumed to be the commissioners of the Bible, Blanche of Castile and her son Saint Louis. A cleric in the lower half, probably the iconographer of the work, gives the scribe the necessary instructions.
This illustration reveals the true accomplishment of the masters of illumination. Each detail in the faces of the figures is discernible, the noble pale complexion of the queen, the juvenile, fresh and red cheeks of the king, even the newly grown hair of the tonsured priest and the beard of the scribe. Their clothing is also depicted in the minutest detail. The imitation of the antique style is accomplished in the design of the clothing, the poses and gestures of the figures, making this dedication picture a classic example of this style of painting.
The picture medallions are equally fine examples of the masterly work of the painters. They chose a dark blue and orange red in all shades as predominant colours and added flashing gold in the backgrounds. Red clothing but also black and brown monk’s cowls provide a good contrast.
Even the layout contributes to the preciousness of this manuscript. Its pages are of impressive size and as the lavishly applied colours show through the page, they were painted and written upon only one side. This meant double parchment consumption and thus twice the usual material cost.
The expensive decoration of this illustrated Bible leads us to assume that the manuscript was made for a high-ranking personality and might have served as a textbook for the young King Louis. Theological use may be excluded because theologically important passages are missing. Such picture Bibles, which were dominated by a moralising exegesis, were mainly intended for a lay public.

The commentary volume

Explaining the universal approach taken by Moralized Bibles requires a comment from a theological and an exegetic point of view, but also from the angles of philology, iconography and the history of art. To meet these requirements, the scholarly commentary edited by Hans-Walter Stork offers first a transcription and translation of both text and commentary in Latin. Then the holistic composition is placed in the context of contemporary Apocalypse exegesis. The art historic contribution examines the New York fragment in context with other Moralized Bibles produced in the era of Saint Louis.

   
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