This book published by the British Library is an amazing feat. The book is huge and the dimensions of it are as large as some of the manuscripts in their collections, with the result that the detail is quite amazing. Huge enlarged images fill whole pages, and it is possible to see individual brush strokes in many of the illustrations, the reproduction is so fine.
The book starts with a short but fascinating overview of the development of the bible and is then straight into the first of 45 featured manuscripts from across Europe, Africa and the Near East, all now in the safe care of the British Library. The Vespasian Psalter is one of the first books shown in detail, and detail means detail. This huge letter S at the beginning of Psalm 68 (Salvum) is reproduced so that it is over 22 cms (just under 9 inches) high. Of course, in the actual manuscript it is only a few cms high, but the enlargement is wonderful. The interlace on the letter, the rather anxious bird or animal (a duck?) on the bottom left, and the precise positioning of the red dots are really clear. And for those of us who love the script letters, enlargements at this scale really show how they were formed.
The Stavelot Bible is a giant by any stretch of the imagination. At 580 x 390 mm (almost 23 by 16 inches) it is shown well in this large book. We know that the monks Ernesto and Goderannus worked on this book for four years, however, as many as five different artists were involved in the manuscript, so it may be that the two monks wrote the script and left the pictures to others. The images, though, show a very thorough knowledge of the bible so the two religious brothers may well have guided the posse of painters. Find out more about this huge book here.
Another grand book is the Arnstein Bible, only slightly smaller than the Stavelot and produced just under a century later. With its twirling decorated colourful pattern on leaf gold on gesso background, everything about this shouts Romanesque. The image on the right is the beginning of the Evangelist John – work out the ‘In principio’ of the start of the gospel in Latin. Silver decoration has bled into the surroundings and looks rather smudged, but the hair of John, Christ and the old man on the bottom left is painted in amazing detail, and it can be seen really well in this book. All the pages have been digitised here.
There are over 1,000 images in the Queen Mary Psalter, and although not the original owner, Queen Mary, the sister of Elizabeth I and first daughter of Henry VIII gave her name to the manuscript. It is thought the have been written by one scribe and has two types of images. Gloriously coloured and illuminated pictures as well as line and wash drawings, often on the same page as here on the right. Christ is debating in the Temple, sitting on a rather precarious single-legged stool, and below that hunters are out with their birds on a rather windy day as the ladies’ headdresses look as if they might blow away! For more on this book, the great British Library Typepad has a post here.
The detail is so amazing in this British Library book written by Scot McKendrick and Kathleen Doyle that it is possible to see individual brush strokes on the faces, limbs and clothes of the people at Balshazzar’s feast (see right), which is the first image shown for the Bible Historiale of Edward IV. The rack of lamb, chicken and duck of the feast with a wonderful gold salt cellar are placed on a white cloth, while the king, with his gold crown balanced on a red hat looks at the moving hand writing on the wall. The manuscript was written in Bruges in 1470 and illuminated in 1479 during Edward IV’s book collecting campaign. See the image in the digitised manuscript here.
This is a treasure of a book and one to save up for to treat yourself on dark winter nights. Every page has brilliant colourful and enlarged illustrations that will delight the eye and warm the soul! Highly recommended.