BIBLE with Prologues and the Interpretation of Hebrew Names, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[northern France, probably Paris, 1220s]
217 x 140mm. i paper + i + 340 leaves with modern pencilled foliation running from first parchment leaf: 1-2412, 25-2614, 2712, 283(of 4, iv cancelled blank), 299(of 12, x-xii cancelled blanks), COMPLETE, most gatherings numbered in centre of lower margins of final versos, some catchwords written below to the right remaining untrimmed, two columns of 58 lines written in black ink in a gothic bookhand between four verticals, with a fifth vertical dividing the central margin, and 59 horizontals ruled in metalpoint, justification: 151 x 45 - 8 - 45mm, additional pair of horizontals for running headings in upper margin, opening line of Genesis written in burnished gold on a pink ground, rubrics in red between blue patterning, letters for running headings and chapter numbers alternately of red and blue delicately flourished in both colours, one-line versal initials, chapter initials and paragraph marks alternately in red and blue, two-line initials in red or blue with flourishing in both colours, OVER 110 LARGE INITIALS IN RED AND BLUE EXTENSIVELY FLOURISHED in both colours, FIVE HISTORIATED INITIALS IN BLUES, PINK, GREEN AND WHITE ON BURNISHED GOLD GROUNDS, three with dragons or other beasts; later thirteenth-century addition ff.331v-340 following the same decorative conventions, with rubrics in blue and red ff.333-335v, and extensively flourished initials in blue and red (many medieval annotations and corrections, margins worn, paint losses to initials on ff.3, 182v). Red velvet over pasteboard, a FIFTEENTH-CENTURY EMBROIDERED ANGEL appliquéd to upper cover, in split stitch in pink and green silks, the wings modelled in blue and pink silk over raised threads, couched gold or silver-gilt threads, the figure cut below the knee and sewn to a terrace of couched gold or silver-gilt threads with braided edging (angel rebacked, embroidery with loose threads and design exposed on face and tunic, velvet rubbed at spine and edges).
1. The texts, layout and illumination show that this one-volume Bible preceded the format known as the Paris Bible which was established c.1230. Later in the century, texts were added in a congruent style, apparently for a cleric who expected to be an active preacher, possibly a member of the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans, for whom the use of Paris in the Temporal readings would have been appropriate; French saints are commemorated in the Sanctoral.
2. Eighteenth-century stamp with the arms of an ecclesiastic on the paper flyleaf.
3. Mrs Evelyn Stainton, Bacham House, Canterbury: her sale, Sotheby's, 26 February 1951, lot 20, to Apsley Cherry-Garrard.
4. Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1886-1959), the Antarctic explorer: his sale, Sotheby's, 5 June 1961, lot 29, to Maggs; cutting from Maggs Catalogue pasted inside upper cover.
5. Sold Sotheby's, 14 July 1981, lot 103, to Dr Charles Hartley; his sale, Sotheby's, 20 June 1995, lot 63.
6. Friedrich Georg Zeileis (b.1939), Gallspach, musician, collector of manuscripts and eastern art: bookplate inside lower cover.
Vulgate Bible with Prologues ff.2-317v; the Interpretation of Hebrew Names, headed de Genesi and opening Adam interpretatur homo ff.318-331; added list of Psalms headed Incipit liber hymnorum seu soliloquiorum prophetas de Christo. Hymnus est laus Dei cum cantico; canticum esr exultacio mentis habita de eternis in vocem prorumpens from the Proemium to St Thomas Aquinas's In Psalmis Davidis expositio, followed by further Hebrew names ff.331v-332; a list of readings for Temporal, Sanctoral and Communal ff.333-335v; texts for sermons grouped under seventy-six headings, opening De discretione loquendi. Ja.i. sit omnis homo ff.336-340.
This volume comes from an early phase in the development of the standardised single volume Paris Bibles that emerged in the 1230s to become a staple of the book trade by the mid-thirteenth century. While the order of the books is that which became standard and most of the Prologues are the same as in the so-called Paris Bible, the absence of Prologues for II Chronicles, Wisdom and Paul's Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians is a feature shared with a group of Bibles made in Paris between 1200 and 1230; these prologues only became general in Bibles produced after c.1230 (L. Light, 'French Bibles c.1200-30: a new look at the origin of the Paris Bible', The Early Medieval Bible, R. Gameson ed., 1994, pp.155-176). The comparatively unobtrusive chapter divisions also suggest a date before the Paris Bible format had fully evolved, since each chapter is marked by a small red or blue initial in the continuously written text, with the chapter number in red and blue placed in the margin beside. The chapter divisions were apparently still novel for the rubricator: he omitted some numbers from I Esdras, continued the running heading for I Esdras over II Esdras (Nehemiah), the opening of which he failed to rubricate, numbering it simply chapter VIII, f.117; III Esdras is then titled II Esdras. From 1230, the Interpretation of Hebrew Names became a customary addition: here it occurs not in the usual form but in a very rare variant, suggesting that standardisation had yet to take place (see Stegmüller, Repertorium Biblicum Medii Aevi, nos 10278 and 10258). The later additions conform to the earlier script and decoration, while omitting the additional vertical ruling down the central margin. They can be dated to the second half of the thirteenth century, since the list of Psalms opens with the famous definition of a hymn by Thomas Aquinas (1227-1274).
The lively illumination is characterised by the figures' emphatic features and the intricate patterning incorporating dragons and interlaced foliage entwined with beasts. It seems to be by the hand known as Master Alexander from a Bible in Paris which bears the gold inscription Magister Alexander me fecit (BnF, Mss lat. 11930-1). Master Alexander is one of the first named painters in Paris to whom works can be attributed - twenty-three volumes to date, all Bibles or Biblical texts - and is a key figure in the development of commercial book production and the systematising of the Paris Bibles. Since Alexander is an unusual name in France, it is very likely that Master Alexander can be identified with Alexander the Parchmenter who was living in the rue Neuve Notre-Dame, one of the centres of the book trade, when he died in 1231 (see R. and M. Rowse, Manuscripts and their Makers, Commercial Book Producers in Medieval Paris 1200-1500, 2000, I, pp.31, 39-46 II, pp.13-4, 147, 149, figs.1-5, 8, 15).
The Genesis initial, f.4, is unusually generous in spreading the story of Creation through thirteen roundels instead of the usual seven, as in the signed Magister Alexander Bible where God appears within each roundel directly participating in each act of creation (BnF. Ms lat. 11930, f.5). In this Bible, the scenes run in pairs from the top, as God presides within one roundel over the act of creation in the roundel below. The creation of birds and animals (and possibly fish) is brought together so that the twelfth roundel can be devoted to the creation of Eve from the rib of Adam, who rests his feet across the framing foliage as in the signed Bible. In the final roundel, God rests from his labours and blesses the seventh day. By contrast, the Tree of Jesse, f.255, rises up the page with the foliage springing from the sleeping Jesse's side, to enclose David with his harp, the Virgin Mary with a book and the culminating figure of Christ. Not only the composition but also the manner of painting the figures are virtually identical to the Jesse Tree attributed to Master Alexander in a Bible now in Boulogne (Bibl. Mun. Ms 5, f.320v).
If the illuminator is correctly identified with the documented Alexander the Parchementer, this handsome Bible with its transitional features can be dated before his death, which had occurred by November 1231.
The embroidered angel mounted on the binding is a remarkable surviving example of the opus anglicanum, English work, which was famed throughout Europe for its great refinement and skill, still evident here despite the inevitable wear. By the fifteenth century, the time-consumingly delicate split stitch used for the robes had been abandoned by many embroiderers in favour of the quicker satin or chain stitch. The wings, halo ornaments and terrace have been given a sculptural, three-dimensional quality by the elaborate understitching that provides a base to the coloured silks and metal threads. Since the angel has been cut, he cannot have been intended for this binding, although specially treasured books were given embroidered bindings in the Middle Ages. The figure was probably rescued from an ecclesiastical vestment or altar cloth to be re-used in a way that would have seemed entirely appropriate to its maker.
The subjects of the historiated initials are as follows: f.4 the Seven Days of Creation in thirteen roundels (Genesis); f.142 David playing the harp (Psalms); f.182 Isaiah below the Hand of God with a dragon forming the letter extender (Isaiah); f.255 the Tree of Jesse with David, the Virgin and Christ above the sleeping Jesse (Gospel of St Matthew); f.283v St Paul writing, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the letter extending into a dragon (Epistle to the Romans).