Splendidly Illuminated, with Provenance Relating to Elizabeth I, The Finest Medieval Bible We Have Ever Offered


(Paris: 3rd quarter of 13th century). 221 x 150 mm. (8 3/4 x 5 7/8"). Double column, 51 lines in a tiny gothic pearl script. [490] leaves. COMPLETE.

Attractive 19th century dark brown morocco by Riviere & Son (stamp-signed in gilt on front turn-in), covers with blind-tooled frame flanked by thick and thin blind rules and a floral tool in each corner, raised bands, all edges gilt (subtle repairs to head and tail of spine and upper joint). Housed in a morocco-backed cloth box. Rubrics in red, capitals touched in red, chapter numbers and running titles alternately in red and blue, a great many two-line initials in red or blue with contrasting penwork, textual corrections within red and blue cartouches, catchwords from f. 272v onwards within elaborate pen and ink cartouches in the shape of various animals, 84 LARGE ILLUMINATED INITIALS AND 81 HISTORIATED INITIALS, with an ESPECIALLY IMPRESSIVE GENESIS INITIAL MEASURING THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF THE PAGE, showing the seven days of Creation and the Crucifixion, and decorated with animals, grotesques, naked warriors, knights fighting from the backs of dragons, and an archer shooting an owl. Front pastedown with book label of the Gloddaeth Library. Several pages with later (16th century?) marginal notations and ink trials (see below). ◆First leaf a little soiled, four initials (two historiated and two decorative) somewhat smeared, some long penwork extensions in lower margins just slightly trimmed in places (but the margins very generous all around), occasional light marginal dampstains, small spots, and other trivial defects, but IN VERY FINE CONDITION THROUGHOUT, the vellum clean and smooth, the paint vibrant, and the detail extremely well preserved.

Attributed to the eminent Bari Atelier, this is an outstanding example of Parisian Bible illumination, possessing everything the discriminating collector could hope for: it is complete, is beautifully illustrated with 81 exceptionally fine historiated initials and numerous decorative initials, is in exemplary condition, and has distinguished provenance dating back to the 16th century. It is the finest such manuscript we have ever handled. As is typical for Bibles of this period, the historiated initials open each major section with either an important event described in the book, or an image of the biblical narrator, the latter often shown holding a book or relevant attribute. Some of the more memorable examples include Gideon as an armed soldier in chain mail (f. 82v), Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes (f. 182v), Jonah and the whale (f. 331), and, of course, the Genesis initial (f. 3v). Especially magnificent and extremely large, the Genesis initial takes up the entire space between the two text columns and spans the length of the page. The seven days of creation are fixed within diamond shapes running down the initial, ending with an image of the Crucifixion, while animals and drolleries enliven the spaces around them. Though most historiated initials measure only about 20 mm. tall, an impressive amount of detail is conveyed by the artists in such a small space--from the texture of the chainmail on Gideon's armor, to a tiny clasp drawn onto the cover of a book held by a saint. Stories and emotion are cleverly conveyed through exaggerated gestures and creamy white skin tones outlined in black, allowing for high visibility against colorful backgrounds and garments. The present manuscript is one of seven Bibles identified by Branner as having been produced by the Bari Atelier (see "Manuscript Painting in Paris during the Reign of St Louis," p. 229, 'Ex-Mostyn Collection'). According to Branner, the hallmarks of the workshop's style include fairly complex ornamentation (often incorporating small grotesques or the heads of beasts), outlining in black, and a figural type described as "a tapered body in a simple contour with inflections, looped drapery, and a large head with features pushed to the front," all of which can be seen in the present work. Our manuscript shares similarities to other known Bibles produced at this atelier, including a Bible and a Missal now held at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (BnF Latin 16 and 830), and the famous Roman de Poire (BnF Français 2186). This connection can be seen particularly in the initial with Haggai and King Cyrus on f. 336v. Our Bible was likely in the possession of John, 4th/5th Baron Lumley (1493-1545) based on the presence of an inscription on f. 290 that reads: 'John Lu[m]ley ys the onor of […] boke by our […] fathe yt […] ryds thys.' Lumley fought in the Battle of Flodden Field, and both he and his son George participated in the Pilgrimage of Grace--one of the most serious uprisings of the Tudor Period. Their estates passed on to George's son John, 1st Baron Lumley, who became known as one of the most prominent collectors of books and art in his day. From there the manuscript most likely went to the library of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (1520-98), the chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth during most of her reign and the most powerful figure in England after the queen. The manuscript was afterwards in the hands of Cecil's eldest son, Thomas, first Earl of Exeter (1566-1640), followed by Lord Exeter's second daughter, Lady Diana Cecil (d.1658). Lady Diana left her library to her second husband, Thomas, 1st Earl Elgin (1599-1663), whose son was Robert, 2nd Lord Elgin, Chancellor of England, created Earl of Ailesbury in 1685. The library was dispersed after Robert's death, and the present manuscript was lot 78 among the Latin manuscripts in the Ailesbury sale, London, 21 November 1687. The manuscript then entered the library of Sir Thomas Mostyn (1651-92), of Gloddaeth, in Llandudno, appearing as no. 8 in the catalogue of the Library in 1692, and later as no. 72 in the catalogue of the Library of the 4th Baronet, also Sir Thomas Mostyn, in 1744. In the 20th century it was sold at Sotheby's, 13 July 1920, lot 6, and appeared in Quaritch's "A Catalogue of Illuminated and Other Manuscripts together with some Works on Paleography," 1931, no. 2. It appeared at Sotheby's yet again on 2 December 1997 as lot 54, selling for £58,000.

Price: $300,000.00