GENEALOGICAL AND CHRONICLE ROLL OF THE BIBLE, in French with a few Latin incipits, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[southern Netherlands, c.1440]
approx. 375 x 56cms. 5 membranes, lacking between 2 and 3, written in brown ink in a bâtarde script with headings in a gothic bookhand, mostly in two columns between four verticals and numerous horizontals ruled in grey, width of each column approx. 10-12cms, centre double ruling for main line of descent, rubrics in red, some underlining in red, text capitals touched red when written in single column, line endings in red, two-line initials in red or blue, two large initials with staves of burnished gold on divided grounds of pink and blue with white tracery, one very large initial with staves of blue with white tracery on a burnished gold ground with foliate infill, leading to a border of hairline tendrils linking leaves and disks in burnished gold with acanthus sprays in blue, green and red, main line of descent in green where not covered by roundels containing names, TWENTY-NINE TEXT ROUNDELS framed in patterns of blue, green, maroon, pink and ochre each 5.8-8cms in diameter, THREE MINIATURE ROUNDELS each 10.3-13.3cms in diameter, ONE LARGE MINIATURE IN ELABORATE ARCHITECTURAL FRAME c.19 x 23cms (rubbed and worn areas, some staining, cracking and splitting along folds, some small holes, one in large miniature, areas repaired or rebacked).
From the language and the style of illumination, the roll seems to have been made in the French-speaking area of the southern Netherlands by the scribe J.F.
Genealogical and chronicle roll of the Bible, headed Ensieut chy apries le genealogie da la bible translate de latin en franchois qui moustre...seloncq larbre qui le demoustre et ensaigne chy apries, opening In principio creavit deus celum et terram. Cest adonc que au commenchement..., breaking at the end of the second membrane, in the right column after the rubric, Chy apries fait mention de ysaach filz abraham; resuming with the current third membrane in the left column with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Captivity that ended the third age, which had lasted from David; the main line of descent is interrupted between Heber and Abia, some twenty-five generations, probably representing two membranes; ending fourth membrane ...au xxx an il fu baptises de saint jehan baptiste su fleuve jourdain; colophon Exlicit le bible abregie et figure. J.F..
Explication of the New Testament headed Chy apres fait mention du nouvel testament..., opening De marie mere de Jhesucrist. Le premiere marie fille joachim... ending ...Et vengea le mort jhesucrist., colophon Et sic est finis.
This is not arranged as a genealogical tree -- the tree of the Holy Kindred, the family of the Virgin, has already appeared -- but with each section devoted to the person named in the framed roundel above: the Virgin, Elizabeth, the Apostles including Paul and Matthias, the other two Evangelists and Timothy and Titus, to whom Paul addressed Epistles. At the end, a summary history across both columns takes the story through to the Vengeance of Our Lord: the sacking of Jerusalem by the future Emperor Titus in 70 AD.
The Latin text that acted as the basis for the translation of the main section of the roll was a version of the popular Compendium historiae in genealogia Christi by Peter of Poitiers, chancellor of the University of Paris 1193-1205 (see J. Tanis ed., Leaves of Gold, Illumination from Philadelphia Collections, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2001, pp.196-8). The present text reflects more recent ways of categorising the past by introducing the notion of the Nine Worthies: the three Christian heroes are outside the history's scope but Hector of Troy, Alexander, Julius Caesar and Judas Maccabeus remain in this portion of the text.
Peter of Poitiers undoubtedly drew on the Historia scholastica of Peter Comestor, a history which set Biblical events into a wider narrative. Although Peter Comestor described his work as charting the little stream of history, it was Peter of Poitiers who used the roll form as a dramatic embodiment of the continuous flow of history. Despite its appropriateness for genealogies and diagrammatic representations of continuous narrative, the roll went out of favour during the fifteenth century as the printing press brought ever greater uniformity to published works.
The vigorous miniatures are in a technique which has been described as halfway between a colour-washed drawing and true illumination: the colours are stronger yet are applied to outline drawings in the manner of a wash. These techniques were particularly favoured in the southern Netherlands in centres like Lille, Arras and Valenciennes (see F. Avril and N. Reynaud, Les manuscrits à peintures en France 1440-1520, 1993, pp.98-103). The direct, expositional style continues the traditions seen in rolls of the Compendium from the thirteenth century, although clarity of outline, with minimal overlapping, received a new impetus in the fifetenth century from the demands of woodcut.
The miniatures present the Fall of Man as the explanation for the history which follows, expressed through the Family Tree, which is opened by Adam and Eve and closed by Christ's death of atonement on the Cross, expressed through the Instruments of the Passion. The diagram of Jeruslaem is an explanatory scene additional to the main line of descent that is further articulated by the large framed roundels distinguishing Noah and the Ark, Zedekiah, the last of the Kings, and the birth of Christ. The smaller framed roundels to the sides pick out especially notable figures and events.
The interdependence of text and illumination in the layout and the unsophisticated style make it possible that the scribe, J.F., was also responsible for the miniatures. A trained artist, faced with fitting the Instruments of the Passion into a roundel, might have shied away from simply curving the Column to fit. Such directness makes this roll a dramatic and effective expression of the coherence of history, understood as the gradual revelation of the Divine Will through time.
The subjects of the miniatures are as follows:
The Fall of Man in an elaborate architectural frame, Eve accepting the apple from the Serpent as Adam watches, her words ne forte moriamur from her reply to the Serpent that the fruit is forbidden 'lest it bring death'.
Adam delves and Eve spins, in a roundel framed by spreading branches to suggest their progeny.
Diagram of Jerusalem
The Instruments of the Passion resting on Golgotha