Picture  Bibles

                     In the Middle Ages the Church made use of pictures as a means of instruction,
                     to supplement the knowledge acquired by reading or oral teaching. For books
                     only existed in manuscript form and, being costly, were beyond the means of
                     most people. Besides, had it been possible for the multitude to come into the
                     possession of books, they could not have read them, since in those rude times,
                     education was the privilege of few. In fact, hardly anyone could read, outside the
                     ranks of the clergy and the monks. So frescoes of scenes from the Old and New
                     Testaments, stained-glass windows, an the like were set up in the churches,
                     because, as the Synod of Arras (1025) said, "The illiterate contemplated in the
                     lineaments of painting what they, having never learnt to read, could not discern in
                     writing". Especially did the Church make use of pictures to spread abroad a
                     knowledge of the events recorded in the Bible and of the mutual connection
                     between the leading facts of the Old and New Testaments, whether as type and
                     antitype, or as prophecy and fulfillment. For this purpose the picture Bibles of the
                     Middle Ages were copied and put in circulation. The most important of the picture
                     Bibles of the Middle Ages which have survived is that variously styled the "Bible
                     Moralisée", the "Bible Historiée", the "Bible Allégorisée" and sometimes
                     "Emblémes Bibliques". It is a work of the thirteenth century, and from the copies
                     that still survive there is no doubt that it existed in at least two editions, like to
                     one another in the choice and order of the Biblical texts used, but differing in the
                     allegorical and moral deductions drawn from these passages. The few remarks to
                     be made here about the "Bible Moralisée" will be made in connection with copies
                     of the first and second redactions which have come down to us.

                     The copy of the first edition, to which reference has been made, is one of the
                     most sumptuous illustrated MSS, preserved to us from the Middle Ages.
                     Unfortunately, it no longer exists in the form of a single volume, nor is it kept in
                     one place. It has been split up into three separate parts kept in three distinct
                     libraries. The first part, consisting of 224 leaves, is in the Bodleian Library at
                     Oxford. The second part of 222 leaves is in the National Library in Paris; and the
                     third part, made up of 178 leaves, is kept in the library of the British Museum. Six
                     leaves of the third part are missing, so that it ought to contain 184 leaves. When
                     complete and bound together, therefore, the whole volume consisted of 630
                     leaves, written and illustrated on one side only. This Bible, as indeed all the
                     picture Bibles of the Middle Ages, did not contain the full text of the Bible. Short
                     passages only were cited, and these not so as to give any continuous sense or
                     line of thought. But the object of the writer seems to have been chiefly to make
                     the texts cited the basis of moral and allegorical teaching, in the manner so
                     common in those days. In the Psalter he was content with copying out the first
                     verse of each psalm; whilst when dealing with the Gospels he did not quote from
                     each evangelist separately, but made use of a kind of confused diatessaron of all
                     four combined. An attempt was made to establish a connection between the
                     events recorded in the Old Testament and those recorded in the New, even when
                     there does not seem to be any very obvious connection between them. Thus the
                     sleep of Adam, recorded in the beginning of Genesis, is said to prefigure the
                     death of Christ; and Abraham sending his servant with rich presents to seek a
                     wife for his son is a type of the Eternal Father giving the Gospels to the Apostles
                     to prepare the union of His Son with the Church.

                     The entire work contains about 5,000 illustrations. The pictures are arranged in
                     two parallel columns on each page, each column having four medallions with
                     pictures. Parallel to the pictures and alternating with them are two other narrower
                     columns, with four legends each, one legend to each picture; the legends
                     consisting alternatively of Biblical texts and moral or allegorical applications;
                     whilst the pictures represent the subjects of the Biblical texts or of the
                     applications of them. In the MS. copy of the "Bible Moralisée", now under
                     consideration, the illustrations are executed with the greatest skill. The painting
                     is said to be one of the best specimens of thirteenth-century work and the MS.
                     was in all probability prepared for someone in the highest rank of life. A specimen
                     of the second edition of the "Bible Moralisée" is to be found in the National
                     Library in Paris (MS. Français No. 167). Whilst it is identical with the copy which
                     has just been examined in the selection and order of the Biblical passages, it
                     differs from it in the greater simplicity and brevity of the moral and allegorical
                     teaching based on them. Another important Bible, intended to instruct by means
                     of pictures, was that which has been called the "Bible Historiée toute figurée". It
                     was a work of the end of the thirteenth or the beginning of the fourteenth century.
                     In general outline and plan it resembles the class of Bible which has gone before,
                     but it differs from it in the selection of Bible passages and in the allegorical
                     explanations derived from them. Coming to the life of Our Lord, the author of the
                     "Bible Historiée toute figurée" dispensed with a written text altogether, and
                     contented himself with writing over the pictures depicting scenes of Our Saviour's
                     life, a brief explanatory legend. Many specimens of this Bible have come down to
                     us, but we select part of one preserved in the National Library in Paris (MS
                     Français No. 9561) for a brief description. In this MS. 129 pages are taken up
                     with the Old Testament. Of these the earlier ones are divided horizontally in the
                     centre, and it is the upper part of the page that contains the picture illustrative of
                     some Old Testament event. The lower part represents a corresponding scene
                     from the New Testament. further on in the volume, three pictures appear in the
                     upper part of the page, and three below. Seventy-six pages at the end of the
                     volume are devoted to depicting the lives of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin.

                     It must not be supposed that these were the only Bibles of this class that
                     existed in the Middle Ages. On the contrary, from the great number of copies
                     that have survived to our own day we may guess how wide their circulation must
                     have been. We have a MS. existing in the British Museum (addit. 1577) entitled
                     "Figures de la Bible" consisting of pictures illustrating events in the Bible with
                     short descriptive text. this is of the end of the thirteenth, or the beginning of the
                     fourteenth, century. Of the same date is the "Historia Bibliæ metrice" which is
                     preserved in the same library and, as the name implies, has a metrical text. But
                     we have specimens of manuscript illustrated Bibles of earlier date. Such is the
                     Bible preserved in the library of St. Paul's, outside the walls of Rome; that of the
                     Amiens Library (MS. 108), and that of the Royal Library of The Hague (MS. 69).
                     So numerous are the surviving relics of such Bibles, back even so far as the
                     eleventh and twelfth centuries, that it may be safely said that the Church made a
                     systematic effort to teach the Scriptures in those days by means of illustrated

                                 SINGLE ILLUSTRATED BOOKS OF THE BIBLE

                     The Bibles that have come under notice so far illustrate the entire Scriptures. But
                     what was done for the Bible in full was also done for its various parts. Numerous
                     beautifully illustrated psalters have come down to us, some of them going as far
                     back as the ninth century, as, for instance, the Psalter of the University of
                     Utrecht. One thing that comes out clearly from a study of the contents and
                     character of these psalters is that a very large proportion of them were executed
                     by artists working in England. So, too, the book of Job and the Apocalypse were
                     copied separately and adorned with numerous illustrations. But, as we should
                     have expected, the Gospels were a specially favourite field for the medieval
                     artists who devoted their time to picture-painting.

                                           BIBLIA PAUPERUM

                     A class of illustrated Bibles to which no allusion has been made, but which had a
                     wide circulation especially in the fifteenth century was the "Biblia Pauperum". As
                     it name indicates, it was especially intended for the poor and ignorant, and some
                     say that it was used for purposes of preaching by the mendicant orders. It
                     existed at first in manuscript (indeed a manuscript copy is still in existence in
                     the library of the British Museum); but at a very early period it was reproduced by
                     xylography, then coming into use in Europe. As a consequence the "Biblia
                     Pauperum" was published and sold at a much cheaper rate than the older
                     manuscript picture Bibles. The general characteristics of this Bible are the same
                     as those of the earlier picture Bibles. The pictures are generally placed only on
                     one side of the page, and are framed in a kind of triptych of architectural design.
                     In the centre is a scene from the New Testament, and on either side of it typical
                     events from the Old Testament. Above and below the central picture are busts of
                     four noted prophets or other famous characters of the Old Testament. In the
                     corners of the picture are the legends. The number of these pictures in the "Biblia
                     Pauperum" was usually from forty to fifty.

                     Picture Bibles of the Middle Ages did not exhaust the resources of Christians in
                     illustration of the Bible. Since the fifteenth century a host of artistic geniuses
                     have contributed to make the events of Scripture live in colour before our eyes.
                     Most noted amongst them were Michelangelo and Raphael; the former chiefly
                     famous for his Pietà and the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel; the latter for seven
                     cartoons illustrating events in the New Testament. Perhaps no sacred picture
                     has been so often copied as "The Last Supper" of Leonardo da Vinci painted in
                     the refectory of the Dominican convent in Milan. Well known, too, are Fra
                     Bartolomeo's "Presentation in the Temple" in vienna, and Rubens's numerous
                     Bible pictures, to be found in the Louvre, Brussels, Vienna, Munich, and London,
                     but chiefly at Antwerp, where are his "Descent from the Cross", "Crucifixion", and
                     "Adoration of the Magi", the most famous of his works. These are but a few out of
                     a number of illustrious names too numerous to mention here and including
                     Botticelli, Carrucci, Holman, Hunt, Leighton, Murillo, Veronese, Tintoretto, and

                     To study the works of the great Bible-illustrators is not so difficult as might be
                     supposed. For of late years a great number of collections of Bible prints have
                     been made, some containing engravings of the most famous paintings. In the first
                     half of the last century Julius Schnorr collected together 180 designs called his
                     "Bible Pictures, or Scripture History"; and another series of 240 pictures was
                     published in 1860 by george Wigand; whilst later in the century appeared
                     Dalziel's "Bible Gallery". Hodder and Stoughton have published excellent
                     volumes reproducing some of the pictures of the greatest masters. Such are "The
                     Old Testament in Art" (2 parts); "The Gospels in Art", "The Apostles in Art", and
                     "Bethlehem to Olivet", this latter being made up of modern pictures. The Society
                     for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge has not been behindhand, but has
                     issued amongst other publications a volume on "Art Pictures from the Old
                     Testament" with ninety illustrations, and another on the Gospels with 350
                     illustrations from the works of the great masters of the fourteenth, fifteenth, and
                     sixteenth centuries.

                     HORNE, Introduction to the Holy Scriptures (London, 1822), II, 3d ed.; HUMPHREY, History of the
                     Art of Printing (London, 1868); LEVESQUE in VIG., Dict. de la Bible (Paris, 1894), s.v. Bible en
                     image; DELISLE, Hist. littéraire de la France (Paris, 1893), XXXI, 213-285; BERJEAU, Biblia
                     Pauperum, reproduced in facsimile from one of the copies in the British Museum, with an historical
                     and bibliographical introduction (London, 1859).

                     J.A. HOWLETT
                     Transcribed by Bryan R. Johnson

                                       The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II
                                    Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company
                                    Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
                                   Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

The Catholic Encyclopedia:  NewAdvent.org