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. 22v)
Samuel, now a very old man, is approached by the elders of Israel. They desire that he choose a king for them, so that they might be like other powerful nations. Uncertain, Samuel consults the Lord. Let them do as they wish, the Lord tells Samuel, but explain to them the hardships they will face under the rule of a king. Samuel shares the Lord's words with the elders, but they are stubborn in their desire for a mighty leader. (1 Kings 8:4–22)
Saul, the Lord's Anointed
The Lord has chosen Saul, a tall and handsome man from the tribe of Benjamin, to free Israel from the oppression of the Philistines. After he dines with Saul, Samuel dismisses a servant, who departs at the right. Samuel privately anoints Saul with holy oil, a sign that he is to become king over the children of Israel. (1 Kings 9:26–10:1)
"Is Saul Also among the Prophets?"
This miniature should depict Saul among the prophets, after his departure from Samuel. The painter appears to have confused the story, however, for here it is not Saul but Samuel that prophecies in the midst of the seers. The biblical account relates how Saul encountered a group of prophets and suddenly received the spirit of the Lord. (1 Kings 10:9–13)
Saul, King of Israel
Samuel assembles the tribes of Israel and before the elders proclaims Saul as king. Saul's great height inspires the people, who cheer "Long live the King!" (1 Kings 10:17–24)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How, when Samuel was old, the children of Israel came to him and asked him to make them a king as other nations had. But he dissuades them from this intention, reminding them of the manner and authority of the king and of the pains of his subjects. (I Samuel 8: 1–18)
Upper right: How, as Samuel’s counsel had found the children of Israel unwilling to calm down, Samuel anointed Saul to be a king, his identity having been revealed by God. He was a man of mighty stature, taller than all of Israel from his shoulders upward. Now, Samuel anointed him at the gate of the city, after he had ordered his servant to go forth and pass on. (I Samuel 9: 2–15 – 10: 1)
Lower left: How, when Saul had been anointed to be a king, at once the holy spirit came upon him, as Samuel had foretold, and he began prophesying among the other prophets. (I Samuel 10: 9–13)
Lower right: How Samuel, having called together the people of Israel, presents before them the one whom God had chosen for a king, showing that there was none like Saul among the people. This having been made known, all the people shout: ’Long live the king’. (I Samuel 10: 17–74)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch