fol. 432v (detail), Jonah
This manuscript, dated 1273 on the final page, belongs to a group of Bibles produced in northern Italy during the second half of the thirteenth century. The group is usually attributed to Bologna by virtue of the coloring and style of the illuminations—blue, gray, tan, and gold heightened by an intense red. Bologna, known for its production of large legal manuscripts and huge choir books, favored large Bibles, in contrast to Paris which soon began making much smaller books. This copy is profusely rubricated including 145 illuminated initials of which seventy-two are miniatures with figures that often depict something of the contents of the Bible book that follows. The illuminations in the second half of the book show especially fine detail and are in excellent condition. The pages at the beginning of Genesis and Matthew are missing. They probably contained large illuminations which someone cut out. Chapters are numbered, a practice which, it is now believed, was introduced by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury († 1227). A specific date indicating the completion of a manuscript is uncommon, although a similar Bolognese Bible in the Biblioteca Nacionale, Madrid (ms. A. 25) is dated 1272.
The illuminations often tell the story. For example, Job is shown reclining full of sores surrounded by his "comforters (fol. 215v);" the Psalms contain seven illuminations; and Proverbs show Solomon teaching a young man. Hosea is leading his harlot wife out of her slavery. The reader can see Jonah half in and half out of the mouth of the great fish (fol. 342v). Nahum emphasizes his message of judgment against Nineveh by a raised finger. In the book of Malachi an Israelite dutifully brings his tithe of grain to the priest.
Each of the Gospels received a bipartite image; that is, one on top of the other (Matthew is missing in this manuscript). The top part shows the traditional symbol for that Gospel (e.g., an eagle for John) and the lower portion portrays the evangelist. Similarly, the Apostle Paul stands teaching his epistle to a disciple in Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, but in the illumination that precedes 2 Corinthians he is depicted being let down in a basket over the walls of Damascus (Acts 9:25). A mid-twelfth-century manuscript in the Bodleian Library (Auct. D. I. 13, f. Ir) also contains this common iconography of Paul, although there he is preaching to several disciples, not just one, and he is being let down over the Damascus wall in a basket by several men in contrast to one man in the present manuscript (fol. 443r). The illumination at the beginning of Hebrews shows the figure from the Pauline epistles indicating that Paul was considered the author of that book as well. The image of Peter teaching a disciple is similar to that of Paul, though Peter’s face, in accordance with tradition, appears fuller than Paul’s. In these illuminations the principal figure, whether a human being or God, has a burnished gold halo.
Most of the illuminations occupy the left-hand part of a column with the text continuing beside the illumination. The wide outside margins, which surround the text with pristine cream-colored vellum, seem to make many colors in the text and illuminations even more vivid and appealing to the eye.
The provenance of this manuscript is only documented from the latter half of this century. It came from the stock of A. S. W. Rosenbach and was acquired through Sotheby’s in 1959 by John Fleming. At that time the manuscript was attributed to Padua, although the catalog provided no evidence for this claim. The book was later examined and verified independently by manuscript expert Dorothy Miner and art historian Carl Nordenfalk in 1970 and 1974, respectively. Of this Bible manuscript, Miner wrote that "it belongs to a group of Bibles of the second half of the thirteenth century produced in northern Italy. The group has generally been attributed to Bologna—but there is really no certain proof of this. The ‘Bolognese’ examples usually show illumination of about the same coloring as [this manuscript], but more linear and precise in character and with a very slight modeling generally restricted to the contours, giving a cameo-like quality, while the central areas are not modeled at all." The "looser, freer use of modeling," which she saw in this manuscript, seem to characterize it as a relative of "a very fine Bible formerly in the Dyson Perrins Collection (Sale, Part II, Sotheby’s London, Dec. 1, 1959, lot 61, and Plate 11)," which was described in 1920 as of Bolognese execution.
Literature: De Hamel 1986; Miner 1970; Norris 1993.