BIBLE, with the Prologues attributed to St Jerome and the Interpretation of Hebrew names, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Genoa, 2nd half 13th century]
91 x 67mm. Two volumes of 292 and 325 leaves, mostly in gatherings of 24, lacking the fifth leaf of the first gathering, two columns of 41 lines written in brown ink in a small gothic bookhand between four verticals and 42 horizontals ruled in plummet, top, bottom and middle pair across margins, justification: 60 x 20-3-20mm, an additional pair of horizontals for running headings and a further vertical to the edge of each margin, rubrics in red, text capitals touched red, versal initials in Psalms alternately red or blue, letters of running headings and chapter numbers alternately of red or blue, two-line chapter initials alternately of red or blue with flourishing of the other colour, large puzzle initials with staves of red and blue and flourishing of the same colours opening the Prologues, EIGHTY ILLUMINATED INITIALS WITH STAVES OR GROUNDS OF BURNISHED GOLD, most including beast-headed tendrils or dragons, some with birds, a face, beast or figure, all painted in intense hues of blue, pink, white, red and yellow (a few small wormholes in lower margin of first 10 leaves, smudging of ink around some initials, occasionally affecting legibility and causing corrosion of vellum beside the initial of St Luke, margin now repaired, spotting to a few folios and two leaves cockled and discoloured, one with a short split). 19th-century straight-grained green morocco gilt, gilt edges (rubbing to joints).
AN EXCEPTIONAL MINIATURE BIBLE
1. The style of the manuscript shows it to have been made in Italy. Its size might suggest that it was made for the use of a friar: no portable Bible could have been more portable. Yet the lavish illumination -- with burnished gold as the ground to all the initials -- shows little compliance with ideals of poverty. Nonetheless, the list of lections added in a near-contemporary hand on the final folios shows that the manuscript was owned or, at least, used by a priest or preacher. The added Psalm numbers are in the same hand.
Bible with the Prologues attributed to St Jerome.
Volume I, Genesis to Psalms ff.1-291v, lacking one leaf with Genesis Ch.1 to Ch.3 verse 7; ff.229v-234v and 291-292v ruled otherwise blank.
Volume II, Proverbs to Apocalypse ff.1-287; Interpretation of Hebrew names ff.287v-324v; list of lections from Advent to Easter added in a later medieval hand ff.324v-325, f.325v ruled otherwise blank.
Although now bound as two volumes this Bible was no doubt originally intended to be a single volume: there are traces of a catchword on the final ruled blank after Psalms. The vellum is so extraordinarily fine that were the 617 leaves bound together the text-block would still be less than 4 cms (just over one and a half inches) thick. At 91 x 67mm (three and nine-sixteenth by two and five-eighth inches) this must be one of the most minute 13th-century Bibles to have been made. As far as we have been able to check, no smaller volume has ever been offered at auction.
The minute size of the book makes the dramatic and splendid quality of the initials the more remarkable. The style is closely related to that of a group of around a dozen manuscripts, more than half of them single-volume Bibles, that were illuminated in Genoa in the second half of the 13th century. One of the most extensively illuminated manuscripts of the group is a Bible in Paris (BnF, Latin 42): F. Avril & M.T. Gousset, Manuscrit enluminés d'origine italienne. 2. XIIIe siècle, 1984, nos 25-30, pp.29-33, listing manuscripts by the same illuminator or his atelier. The initials of the present Bible use the same leaf- and life-forms to make up staves and inhabit infills, and the compact little figures are clothed in drapery shaded with the same grey wash. It is a common feature of the group that contours are defined with an emphatic ink outline. Apart from size, the most obvious difference between the present Bible and the rest of the group is in the use of burnished gold as ground or stave for every initial. This is combined with richer, brighter and more saturated shades than the subdued palette inspired by northern French illumination. This departure results in a jewelled enamel-like effect.
The illuminated initials are as follows:
f.1 Frater Ambrosius (Prologue); f.27v (Exodus); f.46 (Leviticus); f.58v (Numbers); f.77 (Deuteronomy); f.92v (Joshua); f.104v (Judges); f.116v (Ruth); f.119 (Kings I); f.135v (Kings II); f.148v (Kings III); f.163 (Kings IV); f.177v (Chronicles I); f.191 (Chronicles II); f.209 (Ezra I); f.214 (Nehemiah); f.221 (Ezra II); f.235 (Job); f.248 (Tobit); f.253v (Judith); f.260v (Esther); f.267 David harping (Psalms); f.271 (Psalm 26); f.274 (Psalm 38); f.276v (Psalm 52); f.279 (Psalm 68); f.283v (Psalm 97); f.292v God in Majesty (Psalm 109)
f.1v (Proverbs); f.11v (Ecclesiastes); f.15 (Song of Songs); f.16v (Wisdom); f.23v (Ecclesiasticus); f.41v (Isaiah); f.63 (Jeremiah); f.87v (Lamentations); f.90 (Baruch); f.93 (Ezechiel); f.115v (Daniel); f.125 (Hosea); f.128v (Joel); f.130 (Amos); f.132v (Obadiah); f.133v (Jonah); f.134v (Micah); f.136v (Nahum); f.138 (Habakkuk); f.139 (Zephaniah); f.140v (Haggai); f.141v (Zechariah); f.145v (Malachi); f.146v (Maccabees I); f.160 (Maccabees II); f.171v Tree of Jesse (Matthew); f.186 St Mark blessing (Mark); f.195 St Luke asperging the altar (Luke); f.212v St John, holding a book (John); f.225v (Romans); f.232 (Corinthians I); f.237 (Corinthians II); f.241v (Galatians); f.243v (Ephesians); f.245v (Philippians); f.247 (Colossians); f.248v (Thessalonians I); f.249v (Thessalonians II); f.250 (Timothy I); f.251v (Timothy II); f.253 (Titus); f.253v (Philemon); f.254 (Hebrews); f.258v (Acts); f.273v (James); f.275 (Peter I); f.276v St Peter (Peter II); f.278 (John I); f.279v (John II); f.279v (John III); f.280 (Jude); f.280v (Apocalypse).