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[Holy Bible - Latin - Vulgate Version - Old Testament - Psalms, Book of Job] [Roman Catholic Church]
[Illuminated Manuscripts - Medieval - 13th century - Gautier Lebaube atelier]

Written and illuminated in Northern France, doubtless Paris, 2nd quarter of 13th Century (most likely ca. 1240). Embellished with eleven superb painted initials with wonderful grotesques and drolleries. The splendid illumination was probably done by the Gautier Lebaube atelier.

The manuscript offered here comprises 31 consecutive leaves, i.e. 62 pages (bound in fine early Renaissance Venetian blindstamped calf) from a finely illuminated 13th-century 'pocket format' Vulgate Latin Bible, containing the ENTIRE TEXT OF THE BOOK OF JOB AND THE ENTIRE PSALMS. Also included, preceding the prologues to Job, is a portion of the Book of Esther, which in this manuscript Bible ends at "et loquens ea quae ad pacem seminis sui pertinerent", i.e. Esther 10:3, as often, thus omitting the "Additions" section (Esther 10:4-16:24) that was never accepted as part of the Hebrew Bible, and is now collected in the Old Testament Apocrypha.

Also of interest is the inclusion of two remarkable prologues by St Jerome in the Book of Job. The first prologue ("Cogor per singulos..."), probably written in 392, "is full of personal interest, and shows the deplorable state in which the text of many parts of Scripture was before his time, thus justifying his boast, 'I have rescued Job from the dunghill'."

"Jerome complains that he is "compelled at every step in my treatment of the books of Holy Scripture to reply to the abuse of my opponents, who charge my translation with being a censure of the Septuagint". (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series, Volume VI: Jerome). He also comments on the poetic structure of the Book of Job, noting that a large portion of the book is written in "hexameter verses running in dactyl and spondee: and owing to the idiom of the language other feet are frequently introduced not containing the same number of syllables, but the same quantities. Sometimes, also, a sweet and musical rhythm is produced by the breaking up of the verses in accordance with the laws of metre, a fact better known to prosodists than to the ordinary reader." (ioffer.)

He concludes with a powerful appeal to the reader : "Let those who will keep the old books with their gold and silver letters on purple skins, [...] if only they will leave for me and mine, our poor pages and copies which are less remarkable for beauty than for accuracy. I have toiled to translate both the Greek versions of the Seventy, and the Hebrew which is the basis of my own, into Latin. Let every one choose which he likes, and he will find out that what he objects to in me, is the result of sound learning, not of malice."

In the second preface ("Si aut fiscellam junco...") Jerome indignantly observes that no one would have interfered with him had he spent his days, like so many monks, in plaiting rushes, or weaving palm-leaves into mats, but that he was reviled as a forger, because he applied himself to the correction of the Sacred Text.

Jerome's prologue to Psalms has not been included in this Bible, which is not uncommon; in fact, many of the 13th-century 'pocket' Bible manuscripts, especially those written in England, omitted Psalms altogether. It should also be noted that some of the more popular psalms (such as, for example, Psalm 50 "Miserere") are given here in abbreviated form, with only a few initial words of every verse given, evidently assuming that the reader knows them by heart.

The Psalms here, like in most medieval bibles, are the Versio Gallicana or Psalterium Gallicanum. This was the second revision of the Latin text of Psalms produced by Jerome in Palestine ca. 386-391 from the Hexaplaric Septuagint with the intent to bring the Latin closer to the Hebrew. Its popularity in Gaul was such that it came to be known as the Gallican Psalter. This version was later adopted into the Vulgate. It became the psalter of the Vulgate bible, and the basis for Gregorian chant. It has been the standard psalter used in the canonical hours throughout the West from the time of Charlemagne. It is still used today in some monasteries and churches and by traditionalist Catholics. (The third revision, actually a fresh translation, made by Jerome directly from the Hebrew and often referred to as Versio juxta Hebraicum, never enjoyed wide circulation.)

The Book of Job, in addition to its religious significance, has been recognized as a major work of literature in its own right. It has exerted a profound influence on Western culture, and has often been included in lists of the greatest books of the world literature. The Book of Job has been the subject of theological discussion and teaching since ancient times, and also inspired extensive exegetical and philosophical commentary by modern secular critics (Søren Kierkegaard, Carl Jung, etc). The story's depiction of the undeserved hardship experienced by a virtuous and pious man has served both as a means of advocating traditional morals and as a spring-board for complex philosophical exchanges regarding the problem of human suffering. Combining elements of folklore, wisdom literature, prophetic literature, poetic drama, tragedy, lament, hymn, diatribe, proverb, and judiciary procedure, The Book of Job defies strict literary classification. "The Book of Job is surely one of the very great works of literature of the world. It touches the core of existence; it probes to the root of the problems of good and evil, the destiny of man, the meaning of friendship, the wisdom and goodness of God, and the justification of suffering." (Paul Weiss)

The manuscript contains ELEVEN SPLENDID ILLUMINATED INITIALS, most of which incorporate grotesque animals or monsters, and have marginal extensions. The illumination is tentatively (but with high probability) attributed to the Gautier Lebaube atelier which was active in Paris ca. 1240. Gauthier Lebaube clearly specialized in Bibles (of the fifteen manuscripts attributed to the Lebaube Atelier by Branner, thirteen are Bibles). Lebaube's productions were in high demand, and he attracted luxurious commissions from the most noble clients: the two illuminated leaves in Glazier Collection with the Tree of Affinity and Consanguinity (one of which bears the artist's signature) may have been made for St Louis himself). The illumination of our manuscript shows definite resemblance to the initials in another finely illuminated Bible produced by the Lebaube atelier, which was given to the Abbey of St Victor in Paris by Queen Blanche of Castille (died in 1252), now in Bibliothèque Nationale de France (MS Lat. 14397).

Branner notes that a hallmark of the Lebaube ornamental style is "the frequent use of small animals, birds and monsters [...] Animals, particularly dogs seem to be [...] ubiquitous [...]. Hybrids [i.e.] dragons or monsters with human [...] account for a number of images. Perhaps more characteristic, however, are the animal-headed birds that form tails to the initials." (Manuscript Painting in Paris During the Reign of St.Louis, p.73)

Most of these features are clearly present in the illuminated initials of this manuscript. Particularly remarkable is the amazing grotesque initial 'D' on f.15v, with a long marginal extension depicting a hybrid monster with human head and torso and reptilian or dragon-like tail, aiming a bow at a sinister-looking humanoid creature perched on the top of the initial.

The manuscript is written in very small and neat gothic bookhand, sometimes referred to as the pearl script, about which Derolez writes: "'Perlschrift' (pearl script) is an extremely small size of Textualis, developed by scribes in the thirteenth century especially to copy the famous 'Parisian pocket Bibles'. Although it was intended to be a luxurious high-level script, and thus one might expect to call it Textualis Formata, its letter forms, because they are so small, are simplified, often irregular (incorporating, for example, several shapes of a), and have few gothic refinements. Where these do occur, as in the bifurcation at the top of the ascenders, they tend to be exaggerated." (Albert Derolez, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books, p.100)

The rather interesting ruling pattern of this manuscript with four pairs of horizontal "through lines" is also worth noting. According to Derolez (op. cit., p.38), "during the late twelfth and the thirteenth centuries there seems to have been a special predilection for intricate ruling patterns (at least for manuscripts belonging to the higher level of execution). Double, triple or quadruple through lines may appear at the top, in the middle and at the bottom of the written area, and supplementary lines were added in the margins, thus creating a complicated grid of horizontal and vertical lines which evokes the buttresses, flying buttresses and pinnacles of gothic architecture. While some of the lines could be used for the writing of running headlines [etc.], others, such as the through lines in the middle of the page had no practical purpose at all. Such practices, as a whole, may be interpreted as playing an important role in the decoration of the page."

In thirteenth century the theologians at the University of Paris established what was to become the standard form of the Latin Bible. In the context of the new needs of the Paris classroom and the development of preaching, the standardized "Paris" Bible took its final shape by about 1230. It includes a canonic selection and fixed order of the books, prologues, running titles, and the division of the books into the numbered chapters established by Stephen Langton around 1205 and still universally employed.

The so-called pocket Bibles produced in the thirteenth century in Paris as well as several other European cultural centers, such as Oxford and Bologna, appear to have arisen to address the specific context of preaching and the evangelistic mission of the friars, especially the Dominicans and the Franciscans. In this context a complete, portable text of the Bible was a great advantage. As in the case of modern Bibles, that crucial portability was achieved through the use of tiny script and pages of lightweight, very thin vellum.

"It was at this time (c.1230) that the very small "pocket" Bibles first came to be manufactured. Portability [...] was the chief criterion and reflects the new need in university circles to carry one's Bible from place to place; students in Paris were in fact required to bring Bibles to class." (Branner, op. cit., p.10 n.45)

Physical description:

An illuminated manuscript on vellum containing 31 consecutive leaves (forming 62 pages) from a Bible in Latin (Vulgate). Contains complete text of Psalms and Book of Job (with two prologues), and a part of Esther. Bound (reimboitage) in fine early 16th-century Italian - doubtless Venetian - paneled calf decorated in blind with floral and foliate motifs. Rebacked.

Incipit: "populos urbes atque provincias..." (Esther 8:17).
Explicit: "laudate eum in cymbalis jubilationis. Omnis spiritus laudet Dominum." (end of Psalm 150)
First Prologue to Job is on ff.1v-f2r, Second Prologue to Job on f.2r; text of the Book of Job on ff. 2r-12r; text of Psalms on ff.12r-31r (31v blank).

Leaves measure 156 mm x 104 mm, justification 102 mm x 68 mm, written in double columns of 43 lines to a page, in a small gothic bookhand (textualis) in dark-brown ink. Ruled in ink with 44 horizontals, plus two additional horizontals in top margins for running titles, and four verticals (all four verticals, the top two and bottom two horizontals, as well as the pair of horizontals within top margin, are 'through lines' spanning entire leaf.

The first line of text is written below the top ruled line (common scribal practice which began around 1210-20, cf. Derolez p.39).

Running titles and chapter numbers (Roman numerals) in capitals alternating in red and blue, except for Psalms, which have no running titles, and psalms are not numbered. Many 1- or 2-line initials at chapter openings in red and blue, often with marginal extensions and some with penwork decorations. Also, 1-line versal initials in Psalms, intermittent in red and blue. Headings of individual Psalms in red.

Eleven initials of various sizes painted in red, cobalt blue, light blue, two shades of pink (plain and lustrous), purple, aqua, orange, white and brown with stylized floral and foliate decorations, most also incorporating grotesques or lacertine animals, often forming marginal extensions: at the opening of the two prologues to Job (f.1v and f.2r), the text of the Book of Job (f.2r), the opening of the Psalms (f.12r), and the divisional opening initials for Psalms 26 (f.15v), 38 (f.17v), 52 (f.19v), 68 (f.21v), 80 (f.24r), 97 (f.26v) and 109 (f.29r). Of particular note are:

  • the 5-line initial 'S' on f.2r, featuring a hybrid creature with a twisted serpentine tail, perched on the top left corner of the initial, and two animals (a dog and a lion?) locked on the inside.
  • the 7-line initial 'B' opening of the Psalms, i.e. the "Beatus intial" (f.12r), depicting a hybrid monster with only two limbs, a becaped human head with blackened face, and a tail ending with a dog head, painted in orange.
  • the 6-line initial 'D' on f.15v with a long marginal extension depicting a hybrid monster with human head and torso and reptilian or dragon-like tail aiming a bow at a sinister-looking hairy ape-like humanoid creature perched at the top of the initial;
  • the 6-line initial 'D' on f.17v, with two lacertine animals, clawed and dragon-like but dog-headed, one inside the initial, the other on top, with its head reaching inside; there is also a gray hare standing on its hind legs on the top left corner of the initial and leaning upon its extension.
  • the 7-line initial 'D' on f.19v, featuring a dog-headed snake on the inside, and, perching on the top left extension, another monstrous hybrid with human head and torso, two short clawed feet, and a tail ending with a dog's head. The monster, again in a cape, is wielding a battle axe, and the head on its tail is holding a blue flower in its mouth.
  • and the 5-line initial 'D' on f.29r, with lion-headed snake with two paws, biting on the edge of the initial. On the initial's top left corner, there is another hybrid possessing a human head full of curly hair, with a bearded face, worm-like body and two limbs.

Most leaves have medieval manuscript marginalia in several hands, including a very neat and tiny late 13th-century cursive hand; at least one hand appears to be considerably later, probably late 15th-century. Some notations are liturgical, e.g. lauds "Ad te de luce vigilo deus..." on bottom margin of f.15v under the text of Psalm 52, antiphon line "clamor meus ad te veniat deus" written in bottom margin of f.27r under Psalm 103, etc. Most notations appear to be theological commentaries, but have not been studied.


Very good antiquarian condition. Binding rubbed, some wear to corners, modern reback. Some moderate hand- and dust-soiling, mainly marginal. One leaf (f.4) creased. First two leaves with marginal wear and minor chipping at bottom edge. Some scattered neat marginalia in several late medieval hands. Top margin cropped somewhat close by an early binder, just touching a few running titles and the marginal extensions of two initials (but without loss). Occasional light 'bleeding through' from some of the painted initials. In all, a clean, solid and very pleasing manuscript in a lovely Italian Renaissance binding, containing complete text of Psalms and the Book of Job.

Please click on thumbnails below to see larger images.

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