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. 36r)
David, having wept and mourned the entire day for Saul and Jonathan, gathers his composure and turns to deal with the messenger who killed Saul. He is furious that the man unashamedly and without fear slew the king, the Lord's anointed, and so orders his death. The messenger kneels in an attitude of prayer as his executioner aims a second blow at his neck. (2 Kings 1:13–16)
David Anointed King of Judah
The man praying in the foreground converses with the Lord. According to the biblical text, this should be David, but the figure depicted does not resemble him. David, his wives, and followers go to Hebron in accordance with the Lord's will. There, David is met by men of Judah and anointed king. A priest pours the sacred oil on the head of the new king, and he is presented with the crown. (2 Kings 2:1–4)
Ishbosheth Made King of Israel
Saul's son Ishbosheth still lives, and Abner, Saul's general, makes him king of Israel. Abner, guiding the king's horse, presents the new king to men of the tribes of Israel; only the house of Judah withholds support, for they follow David. The Latin and Persian scribes who later added inscriptions to the Picture Bible misunderstood this scene as the acclamation of David by the men of Judah. (2 Kings 2:8–10)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson