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. 26r)
As Jesse and six of his sons look on, David is anointed by Samuel. The Lord gazes down upon the proceedings from the heavens. Those who support David, standing at the right, might also represent David's father and brothers. (1 Kings 16:12–13)
An Evil Spirit Troubles Saul
The Spirit of the Lord, in the form of a dove with a halo, departs from Saul. Its place is taken by a horned and cloven-hoofed devil that flutters over the king's shoulder. Saul's servants suggest the soothing music of a harp as a remedy for his troubled thoughts. The king, restlessly pulling on the collar of his tunic, agrees. David is selected to play for the king, for he is famed for his skill with the harp. Jesse, standing in the doorway of his home, grants the royal servants permission to take the boy to Saul. (1 Kings 16:14–19)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How, in the presence of Jesse and all his sons, when the youngest of the sons, David, a boy of a beautiful countenance, was fetched from the fields, God ordered Samuel to anoint him to be a king. This was done, and from that day the spirit of God was with David. (I Samuel 16: 12, 13)
Lower half: How the good spirit departed from Saul and an evil spirit began troubling him, and on this account, following the advice of his men, a man is sought who may play the harp before the king to alleviate the evil. Now, when David’s reputation had spread, that he was skillful in playing and was besides a man of strength, fit for war, comely and prudent, the king’s messengers came to Jesse, his father, asking him to send him to the king. (I Samuel 16: 14–19)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch