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. 42v)
Bathsheba is Informed of Uriah's Death
A messenger arrives in Jerusalem with news of Uriah's death. Bathsheba and a member of her household express their great dismay. In this illustration, the outline of Bathsheba's house has been traced from that of David's palace on the preceding page. (2 Kings 11:26)
David Weds Bathsheba
The period of mourning having passed, David brings Bathsheba to his house and weds her. The thirteenth-century painter has depicted Bathsheba crowned like a contemporary queen. (2 Kings 11:27)
A Son is Born
Bathsheba gives birth to a son. As Bathsheba directs a maidservant from her bed, another woman rocks the infant in his cradle. (2 Kings 11:27)
The Lord is Displeased with David
David's misdeeds have enraged the Lord. Bathsheba, holding her newborn son in her lap, listens as the priest Nathan reproves David on the Lord's behalf. Because of his sins, strife will arise from within David's own household, and his infant son will die. The king begs the Lord to spare the child, but the Lord will not listen. (2 Kings 12:7–14)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How, upon hearing about the death of her husband, his wife mourns for him. (2 Samuel 11: 26)
Upper right: How, when the mourning was over, David led Bathsheba to his house and made her his wife. (2 Samuel 11: 27)
Lower left: How Bathsheba, once Uriah’s wife, now king David’s, gives birth to a son. (2 Samuel 11:27)
Lower right: How Nathan the prophet came to David and told him a fable about a rich man who, although having many sheep and cattle, had deprived his poor neighbor of his sheep, little indeed, but dearly beloved and used to eat and drink and sleep with him. Having thus made the seriousness of his sin manifest to him, he revealed God’s many grave threats to him. At length, David confesses to his sin and hope of forgiveness is not denied to him. (2 Samuel 12: 1–14)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch