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. 20v)
God Calls to Samuel
In the presence of the Ark, the Lord awakens the young Samuel and speaks to him for the first time, revealing the terrible destruction that will befall the House of Eli. Reluctantly, Samuel shares the Lord's tidings with his teacher. Raising his eyes and gesturing to heaven, Samuel repeats the judgment to the dismayed Eli, who can only resign himself to fate. This is a remarkable painting of the Ark of the Covenant, the only one in the Picture Bible that incorporates the winged cherubim described in the Book of Exodus. (1 Kings 3:10–18)
Destined for Defeat
Later, the corrupt sons of Eli, leading a procession of men who bear the Ark, accompany the Israelite army into battle against the Philistines. The last member of the cavalry looks over his shoulder toward the Ark; his worried expression foretokens the destruction that awaits the army. (1 Kings 4:1–4)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How as Eli, the high priest, weakened by old age, was reclining in his bed, and the child Samuel was lying in the temple before the ark of God, the Lord called Samuel who, thinking that his master, Eli, was calling him, went to him. Yet, he ordered him to go and lie down to sleep. When this had happened three times, Eli understood that the Lord had called him and taught him what he ought to do. When the Lord had returned to him for the fourth time, he spoke to him and threatened Eli much, because he had not chastised the inequity and the license of his sons, the priests of the temple, with sufficient severity. (I Samuel 3: 1–14)
Lower half: How, as the Philistines were beginning a war, the people of Israel, having formed an army, set out to battle with the ark of the Lord which had been moved to the camp and with the two sons of Eli, the priests of the temple, escorting it. (I Samuel 4: 1–4)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch