Manuscript Monday: The Holkham Bible Picture Book

The reason I like the Holkham so much is because I was introduced to it in my first-ever art history class, and I felt all special because I was finally able to apply my newly-acquired art history knowledge to something book-related.

Made in the mid-fourteenth century, probably in some London workshop, the Holkham Bible presents a selection of Bible stories over its 84 pages. Although it’s a picture book, there’s also some text: partly prose, partly poetry, and all Anglo-Norman French. Even though the book was intended for an English audience, French was used because it was the language with which popular preachers (in this case, Dominican friars) of the time would have been most familiar. So while the common folk stood there and looked at the pretty colours, the complementary French blurbs helped preachers remember all of the important things they had to include when they were telling their stories… in English.

To appeal to the common English people, the images of the book tend to reflect the dress and the lifestyles of the people of fourteen-century England. For example, look at the blacksmith in the bottom right corner of the picture above. I mean, his apron is just so 1320 London.

The Holkham Bible Picture Book is now housed in the British Library. If you want to learn more about it, I recommend watching this very enthusiastically-narrated video.

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