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. 43v)
David Orders the Destruction of Sheba
David chooses Amasa to lead an assault against Sheba, but loses patience when his new commander is late. Abishai, Joab's brother, is summoned and instructed to pursue the enemy. (2 Kings 20:4–10)
Joab Slays Amasa
At Gibeon, Joab encounters Amasa, the new commander of David's army, and, thus, Joab's rival. Joab takes Amasa's chin in his hand as if to embrace and kiss him, but instead thrusts his sword through his rival's belly. (2 Kings 20:9–10)
Joab Brokers Peace
Joab pursues Sheba to the city of Abel, where the traitor and his forces have taken refuge. In the foreground lies the slain Amasa, his bowels spilling forth. As the army prepares to loose a trebuchet, Joab is hailed by an elderly woman of the city. She appeals to the commander's mercy and strikes a bargain. She will produce the head of the traitor Sheba if Joab will spare the city. Moments later, the traitor is decapitated and his head displayed to the soldiers. The siege and the rebellion are at an end. (2 Kings 20:15–22)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson