Although embellishments added by hand are unusual in seventeenth-century Bibles, the Ryrie copy of the 1616 small folio edition of the King James bears hand-painted decorations of remarkable beauty and intricacy. In addition to the handsome and colorful illumination of the title page and several other engravings, each of the over five hundred leaves is decorated with a unique design of complex and colorful geometric ornament. Multiplying like endless variations upon a theme, the grid-like patterns not only frame the text block but, as we see in this opening from the Psalms, concentrations of ornament accent the margin alongside every chapter heading. Thus, the decorations may have served as a formatting tool, a guide for the reader’s eye.
Dr. Ryrie tells us that he often wonders what would have motivated someone to take the time to decorate every single page of a King James Bible. Certainly we might expect someone to add ornaments to a manuscript Bible, or to add color to the woodcuts of a Luther Bible. But the King James Bible, for all its tremendous influence among English-speaking people, is not remembered for its illustrations. Indeed, its verses have no accompanying images and its engraved title pages, genealogical illustrations, and ornamented initials, all derived from earlier editions, appear somewhat rigid and lifeless when seen in murky black on white. Perhaps the owner thought of this colorful hand decoration as a way of adding a visual splendor worthy of the Bible he or she loved.
The volume bears four old ownership inscriptions. The most recent, in pencil, reads "From the Library of the Earl of Dalhousie." Another reads "Minchenden House." On the verso of the third flyleaf is an old inscription in ink, "Ex Libris Richard Ockout his Booke," that has been scribbled over and superseded by "This book was Dr. James Morecroft’s." Further evidence that Richard Ockout was the earliest owner (and probably the one who decorated the book) is found on the verso of the Old Testament title page where "Ex libris Richard Ockout his Booke" appears again, this time neatly and respectfully encompassed by painted geometric decoration.