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. 6r)
An Ironic Turn of Events
The great famine that Joseph predicted having arrived, the new governor oversees the sale and distribution of Egypt's vast stores of corn. Following Jacob's order, Joseph's brothers travel to Egypt to buy corn. They do not recognize Joseph's face in the stern gaze of the governor, who chooses not to reveal his identity. Joseph accuses them of spying and imprisons them. All are released save one, who will serve as hostage until the brothers return with Benjamin. Benjamin is Joseph's only full brother, born after his adventures in Egypt. Having learned of Benjamin, Joseph demands to see him. (Genesis 42:6–20)
In Canaan, Jacob reluctantly agrees to Joseph's command. The brothers depart at right, led by Benjamin on a camel, and carry rich presents for the governor. (Genesis 43:11–14)
Tricks and Accusations
Again Joseph tests his brothers. They are allowed to depart with grain, but, secretly, Joseph has ordered a golden cup to be placed in Benjamin's sack. At right, stewards catch up with the group and accuse them of thievery. Benjamin is pulled roughly before Joseph by a steward who displays the evidence. The frightened brothers fall to their knees and beg for the governor's mercy. (Genesis 44:4–17)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How when Joseph, having been made overseer over all the land of Egypt during the years of plenty which came as he had predicted, had collected an infinite amount of grain in immense storehouses which were built, and, during the following years of hunger which came over the whole world and over Egypt itself, was selling grain to the people for a high price, his brothers, having been sent by their father, came to Egypt. Knowing them but unknown to them, Joseph speaks roughly calling them spies and ordering them to fetch their youngest brother whom, as they were saying, they had left alone at home with their old father. Meanwhile he gave them the grain for which they came and furtively restored the money to each of their sacks (Genesis 41: 46 – 42: 24)
Upper right: How, having returned to their father, when they had told him all, they at length and with difficulty brought him to give them the youngest of his sons whom they brought with them as they returned to Egypt. (Genesis 42: 29 – 43: 14)
Lower left: How, having returned to Joseph, they offered him gifts and honored him. He was indeed brought to pity at the site of Benjamin. (Genesis 43: 26–30)
Lower right: How, Joseph, the money having been put in their sacks as before and a silver cup in Benjamin’s sack, orders that they be brought before him as they retire. (Genesis 44: 1–12)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch