Joan Holladay

title.none: Lowden, The Making of the Bibles Moralisees, Vol. I + 2 (Joan Holladay)

identifier.other: baj9928.0109.001 01.09.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Joan Holladay, University of Texas,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Lowden, John. The Making of the Bibles Moralisees, Vol. 1 The Manuscripts, and Vol. 2 The Book of Ruth. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2000. Pp.. 160.00. ISBN: Vol. 1, 0-271-01919-0 Vol. 2, 0-217-01909-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.09.01

Lowden, John. The Making of the Bibles Moralisees, Vol. 1 The Manuscripts, and Vol. 2 The Book of Ruth. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2000. Pp.. 160.00. ISBN: Vol. 1, 0-271-01919-0 Vol. 2, 0-217-01909-3.

Reviewed by:

Joan Holladay
University of Texas

The last decade has seen a flurry of scholarly activity devoted to the images of the Bibles moralisees. Articles and dissertations on the portrayal of authority figures, Ecclesia, Jews and heretics, the vices, and sodomy, as well as on the full-page introductory image of God designing the world, examine a selection of images in one manuscript or acrossmtwo or more codices. The very scale of even the most modest example of this book type--the only manuscript in French (Vienna, Oesterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. Vindob. 2554) has, in addition to the frontispiece, 1032 roundels with their accompanying texts--seems to have necessitated this piece-meal, thematic approach. Reiner Haussherr's 1973 commentary to the facsimile of Vienna 2554 placed this volume within the larger series, establishing a stemma for the works of this genre, but of his planned larger publication in eleven volumes fewer than a dozen "interim" articles have appeared. John Lowden's magisterial two-volume work now takes on the whole phenomenon. Although it can not serve as the last word on any one of the seven individual manuscripts in the group of closely related works begun between ca. 1220 and about 1402-- given the scale and complexity of these works it seems unlikely that any single work could--nor does it solve all questions about patrons or viewers and their use and understanding of these books, it does set the indispensible foundation on which all future scholarship on these manuscripts will depend.

Properly speaking, the Bible moralisee is a picture book in which eight images in two columns occupy each page. The images are read in vertical pairs, in which the upper image of each pair recounts a scene from the Bible, while the lower provides an interpretation or moralization of the upper. Each image is accompanied by a brief text, either a paraphrase of the relevant Bible text or an explication of the adjacent moralizing scene. Four manuscripts comprise the early group, from the 1220s and 1230s: in addition to Vienna 2554, a second one-volume Bible (Vienna, Cod. Vindob. 1179), and two three- volume Bibles that are particularly closely related to one another in style, compositions of their images, and texts. One of these is located in the treasury of the cathedral at Toledo, with the exception of its final gathering, which is housed at the Morgan Library in New York (Morgan M. 240); the 'three' volumes of the latest manuscript of this early group are split among Oxford (Bodleian Library, MS. Bodley 270b), Paris (Bibliotheque nationale de France, MS. lat. 11560), and London (British Library, MSS. Harley 1526 and 1527). The sheer scale of any one of these manuscripts, their extravagant production with wide margins, lavish use of gold foil in the backgrounds, and alternating decorated and empty openings resulting in a striking waste of expensive parchment would point to royal patrons and/or owners even without the image of a king at the end of Vienna 1179 and a king and queen on the last folio of Morgan M. 240. Each of the three later manuscripts was produced a half-century after its model. The pictures and texts of British Library, Additional 18719, from the last quarter of the thirteenth century, depend closely on those of the Oxford-Paris-London manuscript, although it is the only one of these manuscripts produced close to the English court rather than the French one. Add. 18719 was the source for Paris, BN fr. 167, which was probably made for Jean II le Bon between 1349 and 1352; it in turn served as the model for Paris, BN fr. 166, begun about 1402 but left unfinished even after several campaigns of work throughout the fifteenth century. In these two latest books, the Latin texts, both the Biblical paraphrases and the moralizations, have been rendered in French as well.

Lowden's attempt to understand the "making" of these seven moralized Bibles is divided into two parts. After an introduction to both the manuscripts and the previous scholarship, he devotes each of the remaining chapters of volume 1 to one of the seven manuscripts. Each chapter is organized in more or less the same way, with an examination of the current and original state of the manuscript followed by a discussion of the production process, and ending with an examination of the evidence, both internal and external, for its date, subsequent history, and relation to the others of the group. His modus operandi is "to reconstruct the history of each book largely from close examination of the book itself". (8) While this means that the lengthy treatment of each book sometimes reads like description for its own sake, it does provide the foundation on which Lowden can draw further conclusions, especially about the relationships between the manuscripts. He is able to propose several new points about these works: that there was no single prototype from which all the subsequent manuscripts were derived, but that each was developed directly from its predecessor, with the idea of improving and surpassing its model. This convincing scenario leads him to suggest that Vienna 2554, rather than Vienna 1179, was the first of the group, that some of the same artists of these two volumes continued work on the earliest parts of the Toledo manuscript, the beginning of volume 3, where new material was introduced, but that this work was quickly abandoned. When work was resumed the rest of volume 3 and volumes 1 and 2 were completed hastily, together with the three volumes of the Oxford-Paris-London Bible. Lowden's important discovery that the use of pressure tracings, easily visible on the blank backs of pages, links volumes 1, 2, and the latter part of 3 of the Toledo and Oxford-Paris-London Bibles "medallion for medallion, page for page, and quire for quire" (pp. 141, 145; see also p. 180) points not only to the efficient production of these two Bibles together but to their understanding as a pair; it also allows him to draw conclusions about their intended owners. Add. 18719 is a direct, but not slavish copy of the Oxford-Paris-London manuscript, but a number of changes in the layout of the manuscript indicate an altered understanding of this book type: the wider text spaces, rectangular image frames, uncolored line drawings, and use of the same blue initials for both text and moralization give greater importance to the text. This balance is shifted further in fr. 167, which widens the text spaces to make room for French as well as the Latin texts and narrows the images correspondingly. Even in the early stages of the drawn-out production of fr. 166, the breakdown in the understanding of the book type continues further.

The close links of one manuscript to the next allow Lowden to posit a dynastic quality to these books, which is certainly supported by what can be discovered or surmised about their patrons and/or intended owners and their subsequent histories. The specifics of the hypothetical scenarios, however, sometimes seem far-fetched given the sparseness of the evidence. The proposal of Blanche of Castile as the sponsor of Vienna 2554 seems unmotivated here, although it is widely agreed that she is the most likely candidate. It is a pity that Lowden does not seem to know the work of Tracy Chapman, which convincingly associates Vienna 2554 with Blanche of Castile on the basis not only of the use of the vernacular, which Lowden discounts (52), but by the appearance of certain repeated themes in the images, whichsdo not appear in any of the other three early works. While it is, admittedly, not easy to find out about either the existence or the content of M.A. theses, Chapman had presented her work formally at Kalamazoo in 1995, and informally at a dinner symposium after the four Bible moralisee sessions in 1997, at which it was also cited. It is, fortunately, now in press in abridged form (Tracy Chapman Hamilton, "Queenship and Kinship in the Bible moralisee: The Example of Blanche of Castile and Vienna 2554," Capetian Queens, ed. John Carmi Parsons and Kathleen Nolan, forthcoming 2001). Lowden's proposal that the Toledo Bible was intended for Louis IX and Oxford-Paris-London for his wife and that their quickly arranged marriage might account for the speedy execution of these two Bibles is inviting, but unprovable, although further examination of the content of the images and the differences between the texts of the two manuscripts might prove revealing. The association of the Toledo Bible with a line in the will of Alfonso X of Castile mentioning a Bible "in three volumes, illustrated, which King Louis of France gave to us" (132) is inviting, but, given the vagueness of the brief description, seems no more likely than Laborde's hypothesis that Blanche gave the manuscript to her sister's son Ferdinand III (d. 1252). Indeed, Blanche's connections to her homeland, which Lowden cites (133), might argue for the gift of the manuscript during her lifetime (d. 1252). Lowden's explanations for the early arrival of Oxford-Paris-London in England and the reasons for copying it in Add. 18719 there likewise remain unproven, albeit enticing suggestions.

The "viewing strategies" that Lowden describes briefly for Vienna 2554 (pp. 27-30) provide the basis for volume 2. Here Lowden examines in detail the limited number of images illustrating the story of Ruth in all seven manuscripts. He justifies the choice of this story (p. 5) by its manageable length, its strong narrative content, and the limited exegetical material. Each of the fourteen chapters ("scenes") is devoted to a single episode from the story, and here again each is structured identically: for each manuscript in turn a considerationoof the "Bible" text in relation to the text of the Vulgate is followed by a discussion of its illustration, an evaluation of the text of the moralization, and then of the image accompanying it. Lowden also considers how "readings" of images across the page and across the spread lend additional meaning. Particularly interesting is the issue of the composition of the moralizations: in the case of the two Vienna manuscripts, in which the "Bible" text is also most ill- informed, these derive from no identifiable sources in comment ary tradition, in Toledo they rely on the Glossa ordinaria, with some dependence on the commentaries from the circle of Hugues de Saint-Cher, but in fr. 167, and its copy, fr. 166, they revert to personal interpretations. Although he warns of the dangers of drawing sweeping conclusions from such a small portion of the texts and images-- Ruth represents less than .7% of the Bibles' total content (p. 200)--Lowden's results in this volume confirm those of volume 1: that each new Bible moralisee was generated from its predecessor rather than adapted from a source common to all of them, that each attempts to improve upon its model, and that the later manuscripts downplay, step-by-step, the visual qualities of the early examples.

The presentation of the book is exemplary. Both volumes are lavishly illustrated with a total of 117 black-and-white figures--many of them full-page--set within the text and and an unheard-of 51 color plates. Volume 2 treats the reader to full-page color reproductions of the preserved folios with scenes from Ruth in all seven manuscripts; black-and-white details of every scene and its moralization are then included in the chapter where they are discussed. This reader- friendliness in the presentation of the material continues with such niceties as the consistent illustration of the recto sides of folios on right-hand pages and verso sides on left pages, the identical layout of the scenes from each manuscript in each "chapter" of volume 2, the inclusion of "place-holder" reconstructions for each of the four pairs of scenes that would have occupied the missing folio 64r of Vienna 2554, and the repetition of the extensive bibliography in both volumes. Nineteen diagrams in the textiand appendices charting the gathering structure of each manuscript--and for Add. 18719, fr. 167, and fr. 166 collating the hands of the artists with the gathermng structures--complete the scholarly apparatus of volume 1; volume 2 opens with a family tree illustrating the dynastic connections that link these books and closes with a lengthy appendix that pulls together in a single chart the texts and moralizations in all seven manuscripts for the Book of Ruth, handily repeating in one place material already presented in the text.

The Making of theBibles Moralisees is certainly worthy of its subject. In both its scholarship and its presentation it sets a standard for future studies of medieval manuscripts.