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. 2r)
The Expulsion from Paradise
The disobedient Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise by the Lord. An angel brandishes a sword over the guilty pair, who now ashamedly hold fig leaves to conceal their nudity. The Gate of Paradise through which the couple exits is depicted as a slender Gothic tower. (Genesis 3:22–24)
The Trials of Man and Woman
After their exile from Eden, the Lord multiplies the sorrows of Adam and Eve. She shall suffer the pains of childbirth; he must cultivate the earth for his bread. As Eve sits spinning with a distaff, Adam digs with a spade. Their sons Cain and Abel collect firewood at their feet. (Genesis 3:16–19)
The Sacrifices of Cain and Abel; Cain Murders His Brother
The Lord is pleased with the ram Abel has brought as a sacrifice, but Cain meets with no such favor for the sheaves he presents at the altar. Furiously jealous, Cain later slays Abel with a hatchet. (Genesis 4:3–8)
The Death of Cain
This scene is drawn from an account popular in the middle ages that expanded upon the brief description of Cain's death in the Book of Genesis. The aged and blind Lamech, his aim guided by a boy, shoots Cain with bow and arrow as he is tangled in a bush. Note that in this and the preceding miniatures, the painter has deliberately ignored some of the plants springing from the ground, perhaps to create a contrast between the barren nature of the world and the lush Garden of Eden. (Genesis 4:15, 23–24)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: Here is how Adam and his wife, knowing that they were naked, made aprons or perisomata [for the Vulgate’s Greek word penzomata] for themselves of fig leaves and thereafter, having confessed all of their sin at the arrival of the Lord—although the man was casting the blame on the woman and the woman on the snake—were expelled from the garden of Eden with many a threat, an armed angel having been placed at the garden’s gate in order that they might not return. (Genesis 3: 7–24)
Upper right: How Adam, in consequence of the Lord’s threats, seeks bread in the sweat of his face while Eve bears children in pain as they both lead toilsome life. (Genesis 3:19;4:1–2)
Lower left: How when Cain and Abel, Adam’s sons, were making an offering and God had respect not for Cain’s sacrifice but for Abel’s, Cain, driven by anger and jealousy, kills his brother. (Genesis 4:3–8)
Lower right: How Lemech, blind by old age and for that reason having a youth to lead him on his way, while hunting, aimed an arrow, at the youth’s indication, and killed Cain who was hiding in the bushes. (Genesis 4:23 and Historia scholastica, Genesis 28)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch