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. 17v)
Ruth Meets Boaz
Boaz, a wealthy kinsman of Ruth's deceased father-in-law, rides forth to survey his fields. He asks his foreman about Ruth and learns that she is the Moabitess who returned with Naomi. Impressed by Ruth's hard work and loyalty to Naomi, Boaz promises her his protection. At right, he addresses his workmen. A field hand directs a worker who carries two sheaves on his back. Three reapers busily cut the grain, followed by Ruth and another young woman, who gather the grain. (Ruth 2:4–9)
Ruth Eats with Boaz and the Workmen
At mealtime, Ruth is invited to eat with Boaz, the foremen, and the field workers. The company spreads a cloth over their knees and dips bread into a bowl of vinegar supported on a golden vessel. (Ruth 2:14)
At the end of the day, Boaz's field hands bind and expertly stack the sheaves of wheat in the barns. The stories depicted on this folio provide exemplary pictorial information about daily agricultural practice in the thirteenth century. (Ruth 2:23)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How, at her mother-in-law’s permission, Ruth went to glean the ears of corn and by chance entered the field of some rich man, Boaz by name, who was related to Naomi. Now, when, coming from the city, he had seen Ruth among the reapers and heard where did she come from and who she was, he ordered the reapers to treat her well, while telling her not to turn to others. (Ruth 2: 1–8)
Lower left: How Ruth ate together with the reapers, as Boaz himself had ordered. (Ruth 2:14)
Lower right: How, as the reapers were heaping up the sheaves, Ruth carried with her what she had gleaned freely and with none preventing her. (Ruth 2:15–17)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch