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. 1r)
The First Day
It is the first day. Light is divided from the darkness. As a chorus of angels praises the Lord, Lucifer and the rebel angels are cast from Heaven. Immediately, the traitors assume the forms of hideous beasts. (Genesis 1:1–5)
The Second Day
On the second day, the Lord separates the sky from the water. Angels look down from heaven, praising the work. (Genesis 1:6–8)
The Third Day
On the third day, the Lord makes dry land appear. At His command, trees and vines spring forth. To the right, a corn crop grows. (Genesis 1:9–13)
The Fourth Day
On the fourth day, the Lord sets the stars, sun, and moon in the heavens to govern day and night, the seasons, and the years. (Genesis 1:14–19)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth and the light and the angels. One part of these was devoted to its creator and stays happy with its attachment to him. But the other was haughtily averse and sunk into eternal miseries. (Genesis 1: 1-5; Isaiah 14: 12-19; Luke 10:18; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Revelation 12: 7-9)
Upper right: On the second day God made a firmament between the upper and lower waters, dividing them from one another. (Genesis 1: 6-8)
Lower left: On the third day God gathered onto one place the waters, which were under the heaven and separated them from the dry land, giving names to the dry land and the seas as well as to green plants and fruit-bearing trees. (Genesis 1: 9-13)
Lower right: On the fourth day God made the lights in the firmament of the heaven: the sun and the moon and the stars, by which the day, the night and the seasons are divided. (Genesis 1: 14-19)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch