Manuscript Monday: The Saint Louis Bible

This book is an example of a Bible moralisée (“moralized Bible”). Bibles moralisées were made to explain select Bible passages from both the Old and New Testaments, while pictorially illustrating the passages’ applicability to historical events and to Medieval life. Readers were to be morally guided by the picture books. More precisely, some scholars believe that these books were used to educate future kings. If they were indeed intended for the personal use of royalty, this would have made them pretty rare. And they seem to have been pretty rare, as only seven Bibles moralisées are known to be with us today.

This particular Bible was commissioned by the mother of King Louis IX of France – Louis was canonized in 1297 – and was later given to Alfonso X el Sabio of Castile. While no one is certain why the book was gifted, I’m going to go ahead and assume that it has  to do with Alfonso somehow being related to Louis, whose mother was Blanche of Castile. I mean, Castile couldn’t have been that big.

Even though she was from Castile, Blanche was loyal to France (as she was, you know, the Queen Consort). Thus, the Bible was written and illuminated in Paris, between 1226 and 1234. Accompanied by explanatory Latin text, the book includes more than 13,000 extremely detailed miniatures, which are all heavily-coloured. By this I mean that only one side of each parchment leaf (always the hair side, in this case) could be used, as the colour on one side bleeds through to the other. And see that brownish background in the picture above? That’s actually gold leaf. No big deal.

The Saint Louis Bible now lives at the Cathedral of Toledo (Holy Toledo!) and the Pierpont Morgan Library (8 folios were removed sometime before the fifteenth century and rebound separately).  To learn more about the Bibles moralisées, check out this piece  by John Lowden or, if you just can’t get enough, this book, also by Lowden.

Laist ci a foi teindre.

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