An Outstanding Leaf from the Famous Phillipps-Beatty Bible


(Southern France, perhaps Bordeaux: ca. 1300). Visible portion of leaf under mat: 305 x 206 mm. (12 x 8 1/8"); Frame: 520 x 414 mm. (20 1/2 x 16 1/4"). Double column, 40 lines of text in an extraordinarily fine gothic book hand.

Matted and framed. Rubrics in red, capitals struck with red, headlines and chapter number in red and blue, one two-line initial in blue and one three-line initial in red with intricate contrasting penwork extending the full length of the leaf along each column, WITH A MAGNIFICENT HISTORIATED "P" DEPICTING ST. PAUL HOLDING A SWORD AND BOOK, the saint with gilt halo standing before a beautiful blue background patterned with interlacing octagon shapes, two gold bezants and two columns on either side of the figure, this initial on a ground of pale pink with white tracery, with extenders running the length of the column, accentuated with trefoils and bezants on blue ground with spikey shape. A few faint dots between columns (probably offset from facing page) otherwise REMARKABLY WELL PRESERVED, ESPECIALLY BRIGHT, CLEAN, AND FRESH, WITH THE INITIAL IN PRISTINE CONDITION.

This leaf comes from one of the most beautiful Bibles ever illuminated, and, not surprisingly, also comes with distinguished provenance. The level of preservation here is extraordinarily fine, and the artistic accomplishment is difficult to overpraise. The painter, who has obviously done his work with great care and confidence, has produced an initial characterized by a sharply defined central figure, impressive precision, and an intelligent design, all of which add up to an unusually high level of aesthetic achievement. The text here is the most important of St. Paul's writings, his Epistle to the Romans, in which the Apostle argues for salvation through faith in Christ. The opening initial is appropriately large, standing proudly on the page, inhabited by the nearly full-length figure of St. Paul, whose bright orange robes propel him off the azure background. He is depicted with his traditional trappings, a sword and book, which he clutches closely to his chest while raising his head toward the heavens. 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). The Bordeaux origin is suggested 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 auctioned in his sale at Sotheby's on 24 June 1969 to Alan Thomas, then bought by Duschnes of New York and broken up. The heir to a large estate, Phillipps (1792-1872) made collecting the chief business of his life, eventually becoming simply the greatest collector of manuscripts in history. The American (later British and then Irish) engineer Beatty (1875-1968) started at the bottom and, by the time he was 35, had made a fortune in copper mining. 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 clearly validated by the present leaf.