THE HARCOURT BIBLE Bible, Genesis to Proverbs; illuminated thirteenth-century manuscript on parchment with historiated initials by the Bari atelier (active in Paris, c. 1250-1270)
by Catholic Church
THE LONG-LOST FIRST VOLUME OF THE BIBLE OF LOUIS DE HARCOURT, PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM AND BISHOP OF BAYEUX. Illuminated manuscript on parchment in Latin, Northern France, Paris, c. 1260-1280. 310 x 215 mm. 319 leaves, complete but for one leaf lacking at the end, catchwords, some leaf and quire signatures, written below top line in a formal gothic bookhand in two columns of 44 lines (justification 197-200 x 138-144 mm.), some rubrics completed and spaces left for others, red and blue running titles and chapter numbers, chapters begin with alternately red or blue 2-line initials with contrasting red or blue pen decoration extending the full length of the page, TWELVE ILLUMINATED FOLIATE INITIALS AND TWENTY-NINE HISTORIATED INITIALS in blue and mauve highlighted in white and gold, with full-page marginal extensions, deeply cusped, decorated with small gold balls and floral or zoomorphic terminals, some with rabbits, dogs, human heads, dragons, etc. BINDING: Late 15th- or early 16th-century leather, tooled in blind and stamped with several floral motifs (also used in c. 1509 binding from Paris or Rouen) over substantial wooden boards, spine with five raised bands, head- and tail-bands with decorative red and green threads, edges gauffered and gilt. TEXT: Unlike most thirteenth-century Bibles, typically individual small-format volumes that contain the complete Bible text, the present manuscript is quite large in size and makes up the first volume of what is now a two-volume Bible. The companion volume also survives and is now at Harvard University (Cambridge, Houghton Library, fMS Typ. 239H). This Bible follows the Bible text commonly copied in Paris after c. 1230, known as the Paris Bible. It extends from the book of Genesis, with prologues, through the book of Proverbs. ILLUSTRATION: The Parisian workshop whose artists illuminated this Bible is known as the Bari atelier, after a manuscript now at San Nicola, Bari, made for use of the French royal capella. The atelier seems to have specialized in adorning large copies of the Bible, like this one, and its artists are also known for illuminating manuscripts in French, including romances. The initials here are quite large. Typical of the atelier's work, the figures in the historiated initials are often standing, almost appearing to float, within an austere space, with one or two furnishings against a patterned background. Their long and elegant hands are placed in meaningful positions, and their faces are drawn with square chins, down-turned mouths, and small, round eyes, appearing to express deep thought or worry and preoccupation. Occasionally simple gothic architectural patterns appear, as in the initials depicting Saint Jerome writing at an elaborate architectural desk (f. 1), Kind David harping (f. 275v), and a master and a pupil, likely King Solomon and his son, Rehoboam (f. 309v). The fondness of the artist for decorative touches along the border extensions, including storks and hares and hounds, add considerably to the charm of these classically Parisian, elegant images. PROVENANCE: Made in Paris, c. 1260-1270. Subsequently belonged to Louis de Harcourt (1424-1479), Patriarch of Jerusalem and Bishop of Bayeux. Later in the fifteenth century, it was separated from the second volume and belonged to a member of the Boyer family. More recently, this was part of a private collection in Switzerland. CONDITION: First and last leaves creased, leaves trimmed with losses to extremities of a few painted initials, but generally in fine condition. Some wear to front and back of binding, especially to the spine and joints. Full description and photographs available.
(Inventory #: IIM76063)
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