Collection #2 of Twenty Medieval Manuscripts Illustrating the History of the Bible


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Price: 12,000


This collection, which celebrates the opening of the American Bible Museum on 17 November 2017, has been assembled to convey the medieval history of the bible as a book. Its constituents range in date from the eleventh century to the sixteenth. They come from many regions of Europe, and most are decorated.

Five formats of the early bible are exemplified in this portfolio. The Atlantic Bible was used for public reading but perhaps served mostly as a reference volume for its community. Such an expensive and lavish manuscript would have been a source of pride. The Lectern Bible, next in size, was meant for reading aloud in a monastic refectory. It would have been too awkward to use during mass. The Glossed Bible was created for scholars to consult, and as a reflex of Scholasticism represents the convenient access to encyclopedic learning associated with the universities. The Folio Bible was created for private consultation. It was not portable the way diminutive Pocket Bibles were. These minuscule manuscripts, which emerged in Paris to be used at its famous university, were manufactured in the thousands for mendicant friars to consult in their preaching, and for students to peruse for their studies.

The bible was excerpted in a variety of texts, and this collection represents liturgical and devotional formats. Missals, breviaries, and Books of Hours reveal how Scripture was deployed in ritual contexts. It is often interesting to observe how texts were shaped for oral delivery or reinterpreted in new devotional settings. The Book of Hours, for example, is meant to celebrate the Virgin, but its texts are drawn largely from the Psalms of the Old Testament.

Some bible manuscripts have become “famous” over the years. This collection holds a fragment from the St. Albans Abbey Bible. While produced in Paris around 1330, this bible quickly made its way to England. It has been suggested that Abbot Michael de Mentmore (d. 1349) acquired it from Richard de Bury, the medieval bibliophile. Also included is a folio of the Bohun Family Bible from fourteenth-century England.

This collection is housed in an etched aluminum archival display case measuring 19″ x 13″ x 1″. It bears the title, “A Collection of Medieval Manuscripts Illustrating the History of the Bible.”



  • Eleventh-Century Atlantic Bible Fragment from Italy. Single fragment on vellum. Italy, ca. 1080: 307 mm x 57 mm. Ruled in dry-point. Undecorated except for a partial large initial U with interlace interior, possibly added later. Text: opening of Joel. Provenance: ex Bernard Rosenthal (Quaritch, Cat. 1147 [1991, no. 10]). Condition: from a binding and therefore defective as pictured.


  • Enormous Lectern Bible from Austria or Bohemia. Single folio on vellum. Austria or Bohemia, ca. 1507: 410 mm x 270 mm (justification, 307 mm x 204 mm). Double column, 34 lines. Decoration: three-line initial I in red opening chapter 15; versal initials tipped in red; rubricated. Text: 2 Sm 14-15; a grand example of a late medieval lectern bible exemplifying a trend in book production that gave rise to the Gutenberg Bible. The letter forms are so exacting because they imitate print. This bible has rubricated chapter summaries. Provenance: from the collection of Otto F. Ege, the Cleveland rare book dealer (d. 1951). He acquired one intact volume of this multi-volume manuscript, now Walters Art Gallery MS W.805 (dated 5 February 1507), along with a fragmentary second part, which he broke; see S. Gwara, Otto Ege’s Manuscripts (Cayce, SC), Handlist 44 (our manuscript) and 145 (The Walters manuscript). Condition: one corner repaired in medieval or early modern times; offset of a blue initial on the recto.
  • The Bohun Family Bible, Perhaps a Gift of the Black Prince. Mammoth folio on vellum. England, East Anglia, possibly Cambridge, ca. 1350: 447 mm x 278 mm (justification, 311 mm x 205 mm). Double column, 22 lines. Decoration: large two-line initial D in gold on pink and blue grounds with white penwork and colored ivy leaf extensions in the margins; red and blue chapter numbers and running heads. Text: Sirach 44.18 diluvium … 45.19 eter<num>. Provenance: 1. Originally from the third volume of a four-volume set. British Library MS Royal 1 E.iv, whose dimensions and mise-en-page match but whose decoration differs, has been suggested as the first volume. Since one historiated initial from the Bible shows a Carmelite friar, and the earliest known provenance is in Cheshire, the bible may have come from the Carmelite house in Chester. The manuscript was perhaps commissioned by the Black Prince, son of Edward III, who endowed the foundation in 1353-58; 2. Owned by Richard Legh by 1613; 3. Richard Maria Domville (d. 1667) of Lymm Hall, Cheshire; given by him in 1665 to: 4. Sir Peter Leycester/Leicester (d. 1678), by which time a significant number of leaves were already missing; 5. Owned and dismembered by Myers & Co., Bond St., London, from 1927 onwards. Christopher de Hamel deduced the provenance information and identified hundreds of extant leaves worldwide: Condition: very good, with some slight cockling and trimming.


  • Glossed Gospels for a Paris Master. Single folio on vellum. France, doubtless Paris, ca. 1225: 352 mm x 246 mm (justification, 226 mm x 132 mm). Double and triple column, ruled for 51 lines in plummet. Decoration: alternating red and blue pilcrows; a single red initial with blue penwork. The layout illustrates the difficulty of aligning the commentary with its Scriptural referent. A signe-de-renvoi has been used in the last line of the recto to indicate that the text continues onto the verso. Text: Io 20.1 lapidem … 20.18 nuntians. Provenance: from a bible once in the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps, probably his number 13805. Condition: soiled in the upper margin and strengthened with a good repair, probably Victorian.
  • Gregory the Great’s Homiliae in Ezechielem Prophetam (“Homilies on the Prophet Ezekiel”). Single folio on vellum from a major monastic text in miniature format. Italy, ca. 1250-1275: 146 mm x 102 mm (justification, 106 mm x 71 mm). Single column, 20 lines. A precise and decisive Gothic hand. Ruled in plummet with visible prickings. Decoration: capitals tipped in red. Text: Gregory the Great’s twenty-two homilies on Ezekiel represent a major text for Western theology. Inter-preting chapters 1-3 and 40, components were integrated into the Glossa Ordinaria, the standard exegesis of the bible begun under Anselm of Laon (d. 1117) and promulgated ca. 1080. This leaf has the appearance of a Franciscan manuscript. Provenance: from a manuscript including works by Simon of Tournai first sold by Swann (22 March 1990 lot 131), then by Sotheby’s 17 December 1991 lot 49; broken by 1993 when six folios of it were available at Hartung & Hartung; collection of William Chmurny (d. 2013). Condition: very slight cockling, otherwise clean and bright, with generous margins. A marginal notation or two in a contemporary hand.


  • Handsome Folio Bible from Italy with (?) Middle English Annotation. Single folio on vellum. Italy, then France (doubtless Paris) for illumination, ca. 1275: 236 mm x 171 mm (justification, 154 mm x 104 mm). Double column, 48 lines. Foliated 101, altered to 103. A Middle English term in the lower recto seems to read “io[u]adaþ,” written below a faint plummet inscription, “ioda.” Text: 2 Sm 12.18 ad eum … 14.11 Que. Decoration: two four-line initials, one red the other blue, with contrasting penwork; alternating red and blue initials for chapter numbers and running heads; versal initials tipped in red. One curious feature of this manuscript is known from other leaves—it was produced in Italy but decorated in a Parisian workshop. Provenance: from the collection of Sir James Lacaita (d. 1895), inherited by his son, Charles (d. 1933); later in the collection of Otto F. Ege (see S. Gwara, Otto Ege’s Manuscripts (Cayce, SC, 2013), Handlist 19).
  • The St. Albans Abbey Bible. Single folio on vellum. Paris, ca. 1330: 295 mm x 200 mm (justification, 190 mm x 122 mm). Double column, 46 lines in a Gothic hand in brown ink. Decoration: three two-line initials in gold with intricate infill, each with elaborate bar borders in blue and gold terminating in clusters of ivy leaves. Chapter numbers and running heads in red, one-line initials alternately of blue and gold. Text: Isaiah 32.10 enim vindemia … 36.1 quartodecimo an<no>. Provenance: Christopher de Hamel deduced the provenance in 1981 (see “Leaf of a Bible Manuscript, France, circa 1330,” in Fine Books and Book Collecting, ed. Christopher de Hamel and Richard A. Linenthal [Leamington Spa: James Hall, 1981], pp. 10-12). The St Albans Abbey Bible was illuminated in Paris around 1330 but came to belong to St. Albans Abbey in England. When the manuscript was rebound in the sixteenth century, flyleaves from a register of St Albans Abbey were added. According to an abbey chronicle, Michael de Mentmore, abbot of St. Albans from 1335-1349, purchased “duas bonas biblias,” one for the monks, the other for the abbot’s personal use. The St. Albans Abbey Bible was plausibly one of these. The intact parent manuscript was sold at Sotheby’s (6 July 1964 lot 239) and broken up. It is worth noting that the illuminations are of exceptional quality, among the finest examples of fourteenth-century French illumination. The manuscript must have been expensive and doubtless acquired from profits made at the time from the English wool trade. Condition: slightly soiled overall, with tape stain of 5 mm along the top edge, recto and verso; slight offsets.


  • Psalms with Psalm Tituli from an Unusual Pocket Bible. Single folio on vellum. Northern France, ca. 1265: 159 mm x 104 mm (justification, 118 mm x 75 mm). Double column, 43 lines. Decoration: multi-line initials in red and blue with contrasting penwork; alternating red and blue initials in the chapter numbers; one-line versal initials alternating red and blue. Text: the final verse of Psalm 84, all of Psalms 85-87; Psalm 88 verse 47. Provenance: apparently from a bible sold by Sotheby’s (20 June 1989 lot 36) and broken. Condition: soiled and trimmed with loss of portions of chapter numbers in the right margin.
  • “Interpretation of Hebrew Names” from a Pocket Bible. Single folio on vellum. Northern France, probably Paris, ca. 1250: 179 mm x 125 mm (justification, 116 mm x 77 mm). Double column, 46 lines. Foliated 549 in pencil in lower right margin of the recto. Decoration: alternating red and blue one-line initial A’s; one red paraf; cadels on letters of top line. Text: “Interpretation of Hebrew Names” from Asarel “carcer dei” to Asaroddon “uictor.” Provenance: from a fragmentary bible, quires and leaves of which began surfacing in Europe in 2006. Leaves from the manuscript have been in two sales (Sotheby’s 6 July 2006 lot 12(a); Sotheby’s 4 December 2007 lot 6). The “Interpretation of Hebrew Names” came from neither of these groups. Condition: clean, with wide margins, very slightly toned along edges.
  • Pocket Bible. Single folio on vellum. Southern France, ca. 1230: 205 mm x 140 mm (justification, 168 mm x 110 mm). Double column, 65 lines. Ruled very faintly in plummet and written below top line. The script is astonishingly calligraphic and unlike that used in most small bibles of this date and later. This unusual script as well as the chapter numbers that “hang” in the margins suggest an early format. Decoration: red and blue chapter initials, chapter numbers and running heads. Foliated “xciiii” in early modern pen “94” in modern pencil in the upper right-hand corner. Guide letters throughout. Text: 1 Kings 14.10 sicut mundari … 1 Kings 17.13 filio tuo fa<cies>Provenance: The parent manuscript is not identified in the Schoenberg Database and seems to have been broken in the 1960s. Condition: Trimmed as shown, otherwise excellent.


  • Fine English Psalter. Single folio on vellum. England, ca. 1420: 273 mm x 185 mm (justification, 189 mm x 118 mm). Single column, 22 lines. Ruled in diluted ink. This folio preserves nearly all the stitching from its former binding. Foliated “38” in upper right recto. Good black script. Decoration: richly decorated with a two-line initial Q in gold with interior red and blue quadrants on red and blue grounds detailed with white lead penwork; 19 alternating blue and gold one-line initials with contrasting red and blue penwork; 19 intricate blue and gold line-fillers, many extending nearly the whole width of the textblock. Text: Psalm 71.9 eius terram … 71.19 fiat fiat; Psalm 72.1 Quam bonus … 72.9 et lingua. Condition: slightly soiled on recto, stains and spots here and there.
  • Diminutive Ferial Psalter of Sarum Use. Single folio onvellum. Southern England, ca. 1400: 102 mm x 71 mm (justification, 58 mm x 37 mm). Single column, 14 lines. Ruled in diluted red ink. Decoration: two-line initial Q in gold on pink and blue grounds highlighted with white-lead penwork and sprouting a very large spray of green ivy leaves in the margin, terminating in a blue flower at the top; eight alternating blue and gold versal initials with contrasting penwork (purple on gold, red on blue). Text: Ps 118.93 <vivi>ficasti me … 118.102 declina<vi>. In monastic Use this Psalm is divided into smaller sections to be recited in the Hours of the Virgin. But because the seventh section beginning “Quomodo” simply runs on from the sixth, the folio comes from a Ferial Psalter, which would have accompanied a Book of Hours. Condition: excellent.


  • Hebrew Bible in Codex Form,Book of Exodus. Presumably Italy, ca. 1400-1500: 225 mm x 150 mm. Double column, remains of 24 lines, a very large manuscript at one time. Provenance: Sotheby’s 7 December 2004 lot 3. Condition: the one side is largely unreadable without the aid of a UV lamp. Since the fragment once formed the wrapper around a sixteenth-century edition of Baldus degli Ubaldi, Tractatus de iure prothomiseos, it has been folded and bears stains and losses as shown.


  • Illuminated Italian Missal. Single folio on vellum. NorthernItaly, ca. 1425: 353 mm x 253 mm (justification, 232 mm x 163 mm). Double column, 29 lines. Decoration: one three-line initial D in blue, green, orange, pink, and yellow highlighted with white-lead penwork on gold grounds with three gold bezants; seven two-line initials in red or blue with contrasting penwork; alternating red and blue one-line initials; rubricated. Text: Feasts of St. Valentine, Chair of St. Peter including a commemoration of St. Paul. Cited Scriptural texts include: 1 Pt 1.1 Petrus … 1.7 Christi. Condition: fair, the text on the verso worn and therefore difficult to read, the leaf and initial creased, marginal soiling.
  • Bifolium from Italian Missal. Single folio on vellum. Northern Italy, ca. 1450: 285 mm x 204mm (justification, 212 mm x 152 mm). Double column, 26 lines. Decoration: 11 alternating red and blue initials with contrasting penwork; 3 similar one-line initials; rubricated. Text: Octave of the Ascension on the first folio, a complete mass followed by seasonal instructions in red; the second folio contain some of the prophetic lessons and ancillary texts for the vigil of Pentecost. Cited Scriptural texts include 1 Pt 4.7 estote … 4.11 Christum; Io 15.26 cum venerit … 15.20 dixi vobis; Is 4.1 Apprehendent … 4.6 pluvia; Baruch 3.9 Audi quis int<ravit. Condition: internally very clean and bright, but externally soiled.
  • Spanish Missal. Single folio on vellum. Spain, ca. 1375:approx. 300 x 206 mm (justification, 190 x 136 mm). Double column, 23 lines. Foliated clxxxi. Written in light brown ink of two sizes, the smaller reserved for chanted texts. Text: fourteenth and fifteenth Sundays after Pentecost. Cited Scriptural texts include Gal 5.26 Si vivimus … 6.8 vitam eter<nam>. Decoration: two-, three-, and four-line initials alternating red and blue (one puzzle initial) with piercings and contrasting penwork; thin penwork elements to initial I of the introit Inclina domine trail in the lower margin. Condition: slight cockling; minor small stain in lower margin.


  • Three Decorative Leaves from Books of Hours. Three folios on vellum, all from fifteenth-century northern French Books of Hours: 1. 201 mm x 147 mm (justification, 93 mm x 67 mm); single column, 11 lines, foliated 137 in modern pencil in upper right corner; from the Office of the Dead, first nocturn of Matins, mostly the first lesson from Job 7; 2. 181 mm x 140 mm (justification, 101 mm x 69 mm), single column, 16 lines, foliated 87 in modern pencil in lower left corner; from the Office of the Dead, third nocturn of Matins, Psalm 41 (“As the hart panteth after the water brooks”); 3. 151 mm x 99 mm (justification, 83 mm x 45 mm); single column, 15 lines, foliated 18 in the upper left corner of the recto; texts from Sirach and the opening of “Ave Maria stella maris,” in a mass to the BVM. These are handsome decorative leaves with good initials and fine illuminated borders: 1. Three sides with rinceaux and foliage, gold bar borders, and a large two-line initial P in gold and colors; 2. busy rinceaux with blossoms and gold ivy leaves and a curious six-pointed star, gold initials; 3. panel border in gold and colors with foliate and liquid gold highlights, initials in liquid gold. Condition: slight smudges and offsets, some minor staining.
  • Attractive Hours with Harnessed Bactrian Camel Sporting Panniers. Single folio on vellum. Northern France, probably Paris, ca. 1460: 131 mm x 98 mm (justification 65 mm x 40 mm). Single column, 14 lines. Ruled in diluted ink. Decoration: richly decorated with a single two-line initial and seven one-line initials in blue with white tracery, gold backgrounds, and blue, orange, and white ivy leaf insets; 4 line-fillers with purple and blue floral motifs; finely executed panel borders, the verso border having a harnessed Bactrian camel with panniers amidst a tangle of acanthus leaves, flowers, buds, and fruit, painted in brushed gold, blue, green, and pink; rubricated. Text: Psalms 120 and 121 from one of the minor Hours in the Hours of the Virgin. Provenance: collection of William Chmurny (d. 2013). Condition: fresh condition with sparkling gold and unblemished illuminations on tissue-thin vellum.
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