A luxurious small-scale Bible from the time of Saint Louis
4 Biblia latina. Pocket Bible, with the prologue of St Jerome and the Interpretationes nominum hebraicorumIlluminated manuscript on vellum. France, Paris, c. 1250.
138 x 90 mm. 639 leaves of very thin vellum, only two leaves missing (after fol. 474 and fol. 526), modern foliation in pencil. – Written space: 113 x 63 mm, double columns of 46 lines to the page, in a neat, minute Textualis (‘pearl script’) in black ink, versals stroked in red, chapter headings and rubrics alternately in blue and red. Numerous penwork initials with long extensions into the margins, 63 decorative initials, partly with drolleries, 80 historiated initials. Medieval notes in the margins here and there. – In fine condition throughout, slight rubbing of some miniatures, margins slightly trimmed. – 17th-century red morocco binding, gilt decoration, gilt edges, spine restored using old material, flyleaves of marbled paper.
PROVENANCE: 1. England, Kimbolton Castle, seat of the Dukes of Manchester, see exlibris with shelf-mark. 2. Private collection England.
TEXT: This manuscript contains the complete text of the Vulgate, that is all books of the Old and the New Testament with their respective prologues. In line with the traditional sequence of texts of Vulgate Bibles this manuscript includes at its beginning the prologue of St Jerome.The biblical texts are followed by the Interpretationes nominum hebraicorum, an index arranged in alphabetical order.The two missing folios are from the beginnings of the Gospel of St Matthew and of the Epistles of St Paul.
ILLUMINATION: Historiated initials on fol.: 1, 4v, 29, 49, 62, 80, 96, 107, 118, 120v, 136v, 149, 163v, 177v, 191, 207, 211v, 218v, 226, 231, 238, 245, 257v, 261, 264, 266v, 269v, 273, 276v, 279v, 286, 297, 300v, 302v, 310, 331, 356v, 385v, 388, 392, 417, 427v, 431, 432v, 435v, 436, 437, 439, 440v, 442, 442v, 443, 444, 448, 450, 454v, 488v, 498v, 515, 432, 537v, 541v, 543v, 545, 546v, 548, 549, 550, 551v, 552v, 553, 553v, 558, 573v, 575, 576v, 578, 579v, 580, 581. This bible of small format is a typical example of 13thcentury French manuscript production in Paris. Apart from large-scale deluxe manuscripts, books of a smaller, handier size were produced from the beginning of the 13th century onwards. Owing to the use of extremely thin vellum and a tiny script measuring only a few millimetres – the so-called ‘pearl script’ - they could contain the entire Holy Scripture in a single volume. These manuscripts, for which the term pocket bible was coined, served the purpose of study copies and could be carried around even on journeys. Although our small codex was designed for daily use, it is distinguished by its especially elaborate decoration. No less than 80 historiated initials decorate and illustrate the beginnings of the various biblical books, while the respective prologues are marked by illuminated initials with stylized floral or foliate decoration and drolleries. In addition, the chapter headings are generally highlighted with red and blue penwork initials whose extensions ornate the margins of the pages. The division of the psalter is noteworthy, too. Psalms 1, 26, 38, 52, 68, 80, 97 and 109 are marked by historiated initials.The eightfold division thus created corresponds to the liturgical use of the psalter in accordance with the eight canonical hours. During the reign of Saint Louis (1226-70) manuscript production and illumination in Paris and the region of Ile-de- France reached an unprecedented peak. Numerous workshops often specializing in the production of certain book genres furnished the demand for manuscripts on behalf of both the French court and its milieu and the newly founded university.The capital thus attracted artists from other cultural centres, who settled in Paris, sometimes for decades. Robert Branner’s studies of this extensive legacy of manuscripts have been transmitted in his groundbreaking publications (cf. especially: Branner 1977). Although it did not pass uncontested, the stylistic classification established by Branner has not lost its validity and is still frequently cited. While many of the bibles published by him are large-scale codices, they share many important features with our manuscript, including the overall layout of the pages, the shape of the initials and the subjects chosen for illustration. The initials of the present bible are to be dated around the mid-13th century. The tiny figures with their rather sturdy bodies delineated by black outlines, the muted colour palette dominated by blue, mauve and red and the shape of the initials with their ornamental extensions can best be compared with the production of the workshops situated in Paris itself. Branner most prominently distinguished the Gautier Lebaube atelier, the Mathurin atelier, the Du Prat atelier (cf. no. 3) and the Soissons atelier (Branner 1977, pp. 71-80, fig. 144-199), whose activities extended from the 1230s until the end of the 1270s. As they seem to have collaborated with each other, however, their respective productions are not as easily told apart as this classification might suggest. The impressive collection of seven pocket bibles in the Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart (cod. bibl. 4° 19; cod. bibl. 8° 2-5 and 18; cod. HB II 3) may be cited in comparison to the codex at hand, as it offers a cross-section of the production of this manuscript genre in the second and third quarters of the century (Sauer/Kuder 1996, pp. 12-14, cat. nos. 60-62 and 69-72).
LITERATURE: The manuscript is hitherto unpublished. Branner 1977; Sauer/Kuder 1996.