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. 3r)
Noah in His Cups
Noah, now a farmer, tills the earth and plants a vineyard. Later, his sons find their father drunken from too much wine and are ashamed of his nakedness. Ham stands behind his father, mocking, while his brother Shem, eyes averted, covers Noah with the end of his cloak. (Genesis 9:20–23)
A Monumental Misunderstanding
People of Babel plan to build an enormous city and a tower that will reach to heaven. The Lord is angered by their pride and confuses the speech of men so as to interrupt their plans. The project is abandoned, and the builders scatter to all regions of the earth. The miniature provides an excellent example of the medieval building process. Note the pulley system, driven by a man inside a wooden wheel that functions much like a treadmill. (Genesis 11:3–4)
The Greatest of Tests
The Lord has decided to test Abraham by ordering him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Before Abraham can carry out this order, an angel of the Lord catches the tip of his sword and instructs him to offer a ram in the boy's place. Isaac appears twice in this illustration in a gold tunic, carrying firewood for his own sacrifice and again on the altar. (Genesis 22:9–13)
Lot Taken Captive
The family of Abraham's nephew, Lot, become unfortunate captives in a war between enemy kings. Lot, his wife, and five soldiers are led away by the victors. They are preceded by two footmen who lead Lot's children away. (Genesis 14:8–12)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How Noah planted the vine and thereupon, drunken with wine and uncovered, having been ridiculed by one of his sons, is modestly covered by the other two. (Genesis 9:20–23)
Upper right: How the tower of Babylon is erected and God, watching over human haughtiness from on high, confounds their languages that they may not understand each other while building and the work which was begun may thus not be completed. (Genesis 9: 3–9)
Lower left: How Abraham, wishing with the utmost obedience to sacrifice his one and only son at God’s command, having already raised his sword to slaughter, is held back by an angel and beyond hope a ram is offered and destined for sacrifice. (Genesis 22: 1–13)
Lower right: How the army of the King of the Elamites and one of the three other kings, having defeated the king of Gomorrah and four other kings, leads captives and among others Lot, Abraham’s nephew (Genesis 14: 1–12)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch