BIBLE. Bible, in Latin, decorated manuscript on vellum.

Northern France, (Paris), mid 13th century.


192 by 130mm. (and 80mm. thick), 549 leaves (plus endleaf at front, and including endleaf at back), collation impossible but textually complete (rubricator made numerous mistakes corrected by contemporaries or near-contemporaries, and despite a jump in II Esdra from chapter III to VII there is no text loss), double column, 53-54 lines in an excellent professional early gothic bookhand, capitals touched in red, rubrics in red, small initials in alternate red and blue, chapter numbers and running titles in same, one-hundred-and-seventeen larger initials in variegated red and blue panels with elaborate scrolling penwork with scallop-shapes and patterns of circles and trailing stems in same colours, enclosing swirling foliage, numerous near-contemporary and early marginal additions (some set within geometric shapes in margin picked out with red outlines, and a few pointing hands as well as so-called ‘clover marks’, a single hand pointing to a flying bird, most probably the Holy Spirit), two leaves with near-contemporary marginal drawings of God’s hand emerging from a cloud and directing Noah and another looking out of the Ark as the dove returned with a sprig of foliage, as well as two diagrams of the levels of the ark with their types of inhabitant drawn “ab augustino”, one front endleaf cut away, foot of first text leaf cut away probably to remove ownership inscription, splits to corners of a small number of leaves, slight cockling in places, small spots and stains, else in excellent and most presentable condition, later medieval binding of dark brown leather over wooden boards, tooled with fleur-de-lys within chevrons and roll-stamps, sewn on thick thongs, two clasps of leather ties with metal endpieces which attach to metal pegs set in front board, scuffing to boards in places and slight tears at corners of spine, overall in good and robust condition.

This is a handsome and weighty thirteenth-century Bible, the format in which most readers of the Middle Ages knew the complete text. Due to its vast size, most Early Medieval Biblical books included only sections of the complete canon, but the needs of students in the fledging university in Paris in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries lead to advancements in the methods of book production in order to mass-produce complete copies for that market. Script became miniaturised and the words themselves heavily abbreviated in an effort to push resources to their limit, and at the same time libraires or master-book producers divided up master-copies to hand out in sections (or pecia) to multiple copyists at once, dramatically increasing the rate of copying. Thus they survive in large numbers, and may even have suppressed the production of copies of the text in the fourteenth century as so many were available second-hand. However their multiple decorated initials and fine script often attracted the attentions of the commercial book-dispersers from the nineteenth century onwards, and thus they have become fewer and fewer to the market in the last century, with examples continuing to fetch record prices when they appear. Here are the common stock of contents for the Vulgate text, with the standard abbreviations of Hebrew names in the form “Aaz apprehendens …” at its end, preceded by a page of textual notes added by a near-contemporary hand. The endleaves at each end are filled with other notes by medieval hands pointing at a continued use of the volume in preaching. These provide a quick reference to sections of the text for use at certain times of the liturgical year and for a number of common episcopal and clerical functions (such as the consecration of deacons), and other rarer ones (such as “In tempore belli”, ‘in the time of war’).


1. Written and decorated in Paris in the mid-thirteenth century, and perhaps passing to a French cathedral or monastic library, most probably that of the smudged and erased inscription beginning with “S” whose ex libris was added to the head of an endleaf at back.

2. Probably passing into private hands during the French Revolution or Secularisation in the last years of the eighteenth or early years of the nineteenth century (at which point the now-lost ownership inscription may have been added to the base of the initial text leaf). Thereafter with nineteenth-century pencil marks on pastedowns, adding “LB XIX 337059” and an identification in German, as well as an apparent name: “A. Joelb” and acquisition or cataloguing date: “13.06.09”. The volume was perhaps that offered by Ludwig/Louis Rosenthal (1840-1928) of Munich, the founder of the Rosenthal book-selling clan (see ‘Retrospect’ on him in Dem Börsemblatt, 24 May, 1905, and translated into English in Book Auction Records 2 [1904-05], pp. i-iii), in his catalogue for 1910, lot 300 (with the same number of leaves and a similar number of lines).


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