Old Testament Miniatures with Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian inscriptions
France, Paris, 1240s
Scholars believe that the Picture Bible was commissioned by Louis IX of France, the Capetian monarch who built the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris to house the crown of thorns before leaving for the first of his two crusades in 1248. The Bible later passed to the cardinal of Cracow, who then offered it as a diplomatic gift to the great Persian Muslim shah 'Abbas in the early seventeenth century. The manuscript eventually fell into the hands of Jewish owners, probably during the eighteenth century. These various owners left Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian inscriptions around the images. With these inscriptions, the keepers of the manuscript used their languages to assert their ownership of the book, appropriating its narrative contents and assimilating it into their own cultures.
The Latin captions are the earliest. They can be labeled as "early fourteenth-century," and were possibly made by a scribe trained in Bologna.
The Persian captions come next. They were added in 1608 or shortly after, when the manuscript was presented to Shah Abbas in Isfahan.
The Judeo-Persians are last, and according to the translator, they were probably made in 1722 or shortly after, as that year Isfahan was sacked by the Afghans. She supposes that at that time the book was looted by an Afghan soldier and was possibly exchanged with an Iranian Jew.
The Picture Bible is illustrated with saturated colors and exquisite detail. In order to make its lessons relevant to readers, the creators of this Bible set Old Testament stories in contemporaneous environments. For example, depictions of architecture evoke the castles and houses of thirteenth-century French towns and battle scenes are illustrated with thirteenth-century armor, weapons, and battle insignia.
MS M.638 (fol. 2v)
Noah Builds an Ark
The Lord is distraught at the wickedness of men and orders a great flood to eliminate them from the earth. Only Noah finds grace in the eyes of God. In obedience to the Lord, Noah builds an enormous ark for the salvation of his family and the world's creatures. (Genesis 6:13–17)
Searching for Dry Land
Once the storm calms, Noah releases a dove and a raven. The hungry raven is keen to feed on a floating corpse, but the dove soon returns from his survey bearing an olive branch, news of dry land. (Genesis 8:6–11)
A Joyous Landing
Soon the ark comes to rest on Mount Ararat, where Noah, his family, and the animals descend to land as the birds happily escape through the ship's open windows. (Genesis 8:18–19)
A New Beginning
Grateful, the family makes sacrifices to the Lord, and a new covenant is made: nevermore will the Lord curse the earth for the sake of the sinfulness of man. (Genesis 8:20–9:15)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How God announces the impending flood to Noah, instructing him to make an ark for himself in which he may be saved, as the latter follows God’s instruction. (Genesis 6: 12–22)
Upper right: How Noah, his wife, his three sons and three daughters-in-law come into the ark, accompanied by two or seven of every kind of the animals of the earth and the winged fowl. And how at length, after he had sent a raven to reconnoiter which, having found a cadaver, did not return, Noah eventually sent a dove that returned bringing back an olive branch in her mouth. (Genesis 7:7 – 8:12)
Lower left: How Noah went forth onto the land with his sons and their wives and all the animals which were in the ark. (Genesis 8:18–19)
Lower right: How Noah, having built an altar, offered sacrifice to God who blessed him and his sons with many promises and many threats. (Genesis 8:20 – 9:17)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch