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. 5r)
Joseph, a favorite Son
Fulfilling the wishes of his father Jacob, Joseph brings bread and wine to his older brothers where they tend their flocks. But the brothers are jealous of Joseph and the favor Jacob has shown to him. He is brutally stripped of the coat his father gave him and lowered into a deep pit. (Genesis 37:12–24)
Sold into Slavery
The brothers return to the pit to sell Joseph into slavery, and he is taken to Egypt on a camel. (Genesis 37:25–28)
The brothers have torn Joseph's coat and covered it in blood; a horrified Jacob is told that Joseph has been killed by a wild beast. (Genesis 37:31–34)
False Accusations and Portents of the Future
In Egypt, Joseph refuses the advances of his master's wife, who grasps his cloak as he flees. He is wrongly accused of adultery and put in prison, but his ability to interpret the dreams of his cell-mates will shortly result in his freedom. (Genesis 40:9–17)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How Jacob sent Joseph, his dearest son to his brothers who were tending the flock and these, as they hated him mortally and wished to kill him, revoked such an impious plan by the counsel of Reuben, the firstborn and cast him, having stripped him, into a pit, pristine and arid. (Genesis 37: 3–24)
Upper right: How Joseph was drawn out of the pit by his brothers and sold for thirty pieces of silver to merchants on their way to Egypt. (Genesis 37: 25–28)
Lower left: How Joseph’s brothers sent his coat, soiled in kid’s blood, to their father and he, when he had seen the coat said mournfully: ’An evil beast has devoured Joseph’; and he was saddened beyond consolation. (Genesis 37: 29–35)
Lower right: How after Joseph was sold to Pharaoh’s captain of the guard and was made an overseer over his house, at length his master’s wife fell in love with him and desired him to commit adultery with her. But when he had often refused, she secretly lay hand on him and snatched away his mantle as he was fleeing. Wherefore, seeing that she was put in contempt, she accused him in front of her husband, displaying the garment to add credibility to the charge, as if Joseph had wished to attack her. And indeed, the man, trusting her much, sent him to prison. There he was interpreting the dreams of the king’s imprisoned servants. One of these, the chief of butlers, saw himself with the king’s cup in his hand into which he was pressing ripe clusters of grapes offering it to Pharaoh. The other, the chief of bakers, saw himself carrying a basket of baked goods while birds were eating of it. Joseph declared that the first one was soon about to win the king’s favor again, while the second was about to die by hanging. And this befell both in three days. (Genesis 39, 40)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch