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. 18r)
A Successful Day
Ruth threshes the gleanings that Boaz gave to her, collects them in her skirt, and brings them home to Naomi. In this illustration Ruth carries an empty sack on her head. Naomi, seated in an archway before her house, inquires as to where Ruth found work. Naomi is pleased to learn that Boaz, her kinsman, has taken Ruth under his wing. (Ruth 2:17–19)
Naomi conceives of a plan to win Boaz as a husband for her daughter-in-law. This evening, Boaz will sift barley on the threshing floor. Therefore, she advises Ruth, wait until after the work is over and Boaz has gone to sleep, then lay down at his feet. Ruth, obedient, replies, "All that you say to me I shall do." (Ruth 3:1–5)
As Boaz's men continue threshing the barley, their master has found a comfortable place to sleep among the stacks of sheaves. Ruth, unnoticed by a man sifting barley, quietly creeps under a fold of Boaz's mantle. (Ruth 3:7)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How Ruth threshes her sheaves and, showing her mother-in-law the barley which was thus extracted, tells her about all of Boaz’s kindheartedness toward her. (Ruth 2: 18–22)
Upper right: How Naomi, having devised a good plan for Ruth, tells her to wash herself, put on nicer clothes and go, at night, to Boaz in the threshing floor, and to hide under his mantle as he sleeps, for thus he will take her to be his wife following the law of kinship according to the Hebrews’ custom. (Ruth 3: 1–6)
Lower half: How, as the reapers winnow the grain and Boaz sleeps on a heap of sheaves, Ruth, following her mother-in law’s plan, hides herself under her mantle. (Ruth 3: 7)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch