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. 28r)
David Petitions Saul
David, his shepherd's crook in hand, asks King Saul for the right to do battle with Goliath. The king attempts to dissuade his youthful servant from this dangerous task, but David is adamant. With the Lord's help, David explains, he has slain a lion and a bear. So will the Philistine giant fall, for he has dared to curse the army of the Living God. The king yields. Saul's warriors glance at each other, clearly uncertain of the wisdom of this decision. (1 Kings 17:31–37)
David Armed for the Combat
Saul, resigned to David's wishes, clothes David with a coat of mail and fits a great helm over his head. (1 Kings 17:38)
David Removes the Armor
Unaccustomed to the weight and bulk of the armor, David removes his helmet and sword and pulls the mail coat off over his head. Taking hold of his shepherd's staff, he makes his way to a brook and pulls five smooth stones from the water. (1 Kings 17:39–40)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper left: How, when Saul had heard David’s words, he had him brought to him and discouraged him from entering upon such a great undertaking. But he, showing in many ways that he had the highest hope regarding both himself and God’s help, influenced the king’s mind not to deny him his battle plan. (I Samuel 17:31–37)
Upper right: How Saul arms David who is about to go to the hand-to-hand fight. (I Samuel 17: 38)
Lower half: How David, who was not accustomed to arms, having attempted to walk in armor and could not, laid off his arms, took his staff, and, collecting stones from a stream, arms himself for battle, as he is about to fight with his sling. (I Samuel 17: 39–40)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch