From a Phillipps-Beatty Bible: Two of the
Most Beautiful Leaves We Have Ever Offered
AN ILLUMINATED VELLUM MANUSCRIPT LEAF WITH A WONDERFUL HISTORIATED INITIAL, FROM AN OUTSTANDING MONUMENTAL BIBLE IN LATIN.
TEXT FROM THE OPENING OF II MACHABEES.(Southern France, perhaps Bordeaux, ca. 1300). 330 x 229 mm (13 x 9"). Double column, 40 lines of text in an extraordinarily fine gothic book hand.
Attractively matted. Rubrics in red, capitals struck with red, headlines and chapter number in red and blue, one two-line chapter initial in blue with elaborate red and blue penwork extending the full length of the leaf in the inner margin, and the recto WITH A MAGNIFICENT HISTORIATED INITIAL "F" SHOWING JUDAS MACCABEUS AND THREE OTHERS STANDING BEFORE GOD, Judas at the front of the group gesturing with a finger of one hand pointing at the other hand (see below), the scene set against a magenta and white tessellated background, the body of the initial in blue, pink, and white with burnished gold disks (the historiated part of the initial measuring approximately 42 mm. square, but with a wide descender several lines long), the letter terminating near the top of the middle margin with a leafy stalk surmounted by a pensive, scrawny bird. A tiny bit of wrinkling at one lower corner, otherwise REMARKABLY WELL PRESERVED, ESPECIALLY BRIGHT, CLEAN, AND FRESH, WITH THE INITIAL IN PRISTINE CONDITION.
This and the next item are two of the most beautiful Bible leaves we have ever offered for sale, and, not surprisingly, they come with distinguished provenance. The condition could not be any better, and the artistic accomplishment here is difficult to overpraise. The painter, who has obviously done his work with great care and confidence, has produced a scene characterized by sharply defined figures, impressive precision in the application of paint, and an intelligent design, all of which add up to an unusually high level of aesthetic achievement, especially for the time period. The iconography here is intriguing. The opening chapter of II Machabees contains a letter from Judas Maccabeus and leaders of the Jewish community in Jerusalem inviting the Jews of Egypt to join in celebrating a festival of thanksgiving (which became the holiday known today as Hanukkah), commemorating the liberation of Jerusalem from Syrian control and the reconsecration of the Temple after its desecration by Antiochus IV. In French and Italian illuminated Bibles of the 13th century, the conventional historiated initial for II Machabees depicts a messenger either receiving the letter in Jerusalem or delivering it in Egypt. Our miniature, by contrast, presents an unusual and perhaps original tableaux. Architectural elements at the right edge represent the newly rededicated Temple, as an image of God looks out benevolently from beneath the soffit of the building's cornice in the direction of four figures at the left side, apparently representing Judas Maccabeus and three of the others who jointly authored the letter with him. The arrangement of the hands of the Judas figure suggests a speaking gesture, though whether addressing thanksgiving to God or related somehow to the contents of the letter is unclear. Our leaf was once part of a spectacular Bible in the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps (his MS 2506) and later owned by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (his MS W.173). Phillipps bought the manuscript in the 1820s from Thomas Thorpe, who had purchased it in Spain. The Bordeaux origin is bolstered by the presence in the original volume of two 16th century inscriptions by monks from that city. Phillipps' heirs sold the Bible privately to Beatty in 1921, and it was sold in his sale at Sotheby's on 24 June 1969 to Alan Thomas, then bought, in turn, by Duschnes of New York and broken up. Phillipps (1792-1872) began collecting books with his schoolboy allowance, and once he succeeded to his father's large estate, he made collecting the chief business of his life, eventually becoming simply the greatest collector of manuscripts in history. His collection reached the staggering number of 60,000 manuscripts and approximately 1,000 incunabula, as well as many other printed books old and new. By the time he was 35, the American (later British and then Irish) engineer Beatty (1875-1968) had made a fortune in copper mining. But the years in the mines, where he started at the bottom, caused serious harm to his lungs, and he spent considerable time travelling to salubrious climates to repair his health. Cairo in particular became a second home and a location from which he began a serious career in collecting manuscripts, at first Islamic and then Western, accumulating in the end enough material to fill a catalogue of some 38 volumes. According to George Edwards' article in "Grolier 2000," Beatty "had the highest standards of quality and condition" as a collector, a claim that is validated by the present leaf. (ST11383b)