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. 4r)
The Lord detests the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah; the cities are toppled by a rain of brimstone and fire from heaven. Lot and his family are spared this fate, but Lot's wife, against the angels' command, turns for a final glimpse of her old home and is transformed into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:15–26)
A Father's Blessing
Before Isaac dies, he will bestow a blessing upon his elder son, Esau, making him master of his brothers. But Isaac's wife, Rebekah, would rather this favor fall to her younger son, Jacob. So, she dresses Jacob in Esau's clothes and sends him before his father with an offering. Isaac, whose eyesight is failing, is fooled and bestows the blessing on Jacob. (Genesis 27:15–25)
Returning from his hunt, Esau presents his kill to the blind Isaac. Isaac laments, realizing that he has been duped by Jacob and that Esau must ever serve his younger brother. (Genesis 27:30–35)
A Marvelous Vision
On the way to Haran, Jacob falls asleep outdoors and has an amazing vision. A ladder ascends endlessly into a vault of sky. Angels ascend and descend its rungs, and the Lord Himself peers down from its heights to bestow a blessing upon Jacob and his children. Waking, Jacob builds an altar and pours an offering of oil, swearing to honor the Lord always. (Genesis 28:11–18)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How Sodom and Gomorrah were overturned by fire sent from heaven. Lot alone escaped safely with his two daughters and his wife who, nevertheless, had looked backward against the angelic prohibition and thereupon became a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19: 12–26)
Upper right: How when Isaac who was already old and close to death and his eyes had dimmed had ordered his firstborn, Esau, who was to receive his father’s blessing, to go hunting and make him savory meat of his game, Rebecca, Isaac’s wife, cooked savory meat of kid’s flesh, and, in the absence of Esau, having carefully instructed him, sent Jacob, her younger son whom she loved more, to obtain her father’s blessing; beforehand. (Genesis 27:1–29)
Lower left: How Esau, having made savory meat of his game, came up [to?] his father who was ignorant of the deed and greatly astonished he poured forth [his grief], demanding in tears to be blessed. (Genesis 27: 30–34)
Lower right: How Jacob, fearing his brother’s anger and threats, saw in his dream, while retiring from his homeland, a vision of a mighty ladder from earth to heaven and of angels ascending and descending as the Lord was standing above the ladder. Thus when he had woke up he made an offering in that place. (Genesis 27: 41 – 28:22)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch