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. 27r)
Saul and his army ride forth to face the Philistine army once more. The king, astride a horse adorned with orange trappings, glances uneasily over his shoulder: on the opposite side of the battlefield, he has spied Goliath, the Philistine giant. Goliath carries a gigantic shield on his back and leans on a spear nearly twice the height of a man. A huge sword is girt round his waist. As his armor-bearer and fellow soldiers confidently look on, the giant taunts the Israelite army, demanding that an opponent face him in single combat. (1 Kings 17:3–8)
A Father's Concern
Three of David's brothers have followed Saul into battle against the Philistines. Jesse sends David to the Israelite camp with supplies for his brothers and charges him to return with news of the war. (1 Kings 17:14–19)
David Entrusts Jesse's Flock to Another
David, wearing a wreath of flowers, instructs a fellow shepherd to look after his father's flocks in his absence. (1 Kings 17:20)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How, the Philistines having encamped against Israel, king Saul rushed with his army to resist them and Jesse’s three elder sons, David’s brothers, were following him among others. Now, in the army of the Philistines there was one, Goliath by name, a man of marvelous stature six cubits and a span tall, laden with heavy and astonishing arms, who was calling daily to the army of Israel, inviting, with many reproaches, one single man to fight with him hand-to-hand. (I Samuel 17: 1–13)
Lower left: How, Saul having gone to war, David returned home to tend the flock, as he was accustomed. Once there, his father ordered him to go to the camp, carrying parched grain and loaves of bread for his brothers as well as cheese for their captain, and to inquire how are his brothers doing. (I Samuel 17: 15–18)
Lower right: How, following his father’s orders, as David is about to go to the camp, he gives the charge of his flock to another keeper. (I Samuel 17:20)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch