Collection #1 of Twenty Medieval Manuscripts Illustrating the History of the Bible


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Price: 10,000


This collection, which celebrates the opening of the American Bible Museum on 17 November 2017, has been assembled to convey the book history of the medieval bible. Its constituents range in date from the twelfth 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.

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.


  • Large Fragment of an Atlantic Bible from Spain. Single large fragment on vellum. Spain, ca. 1180: 283 mm x 325 mm (justification, 243 mm x 263 mm). Double column, remains of 29 lines, approximately the upper half of an immense folio. A single rubricated initial and miniated capitals of running heads. Text: Numbers 21.22 vineas … 22:14 principes ad; Numbers 22.22 inam et duos … 23.13 locum. Provenance: ex Mark Lansburgh (d. 2013), department store magnate, 1992. Condition: used as a wrapper inscribed “Libro da Molti et Diverse Racardi 1550-1631” and therefore exhibiting losses. A crease along the top is starting to split. Remnants of a hinge across the left edge of the recto.


  • Handsome Thirteenth-Century Lectern Bible. Single folio on vellum. Flanders, ca. 1275: 447 mm x 318 mm (justification, 318 mm x 211 mm). Double column, 39 lines. Ruled in plummet, with prickings still visible on the inner margin. Foliated 67 in early modern pen. Decoration: one six-line initial L in blue with elaborate red and frogspawn penwork trailing in the margin; two similar two-line initials in red and blue with contrasting red and blue penwork swags trailing in the margins; running heads and chapter numbers in alternating red and blue capitals; versal initials tipped in red; ornamental cadels in the upper margin of the verso. This is a very handsome and imposing leaf in fresh condition. Text: Numbers 16.38 mortibus … 19.10 im<mundus>. Provenance: from a very large collection of fragments acquired by Otto F. Ege from a London dealer; see S. Gwara, Otto Ege’s Manuscripts (Cayce, SC, 2013), Handlist 96.
  • Decorative Monastic Lectern Bible from The Netherlands. Single folio on vellum. The Netherlands, ca. 1460: 317 mm x 248 mm (justification, 265 mm x 193 mm). Double column, 53 lines. A beautiful, refined script. Decoration: ten-line initial C of red and blue puzzle style with voids and infilled with red foliate penwork; two-line initials in red and blue; rubricated, with versal initials tipped in red. A pinprick in the middle of the initial suggests that a compass was used to make it. Text: 1 Paralipomenon 27-29, and the opening of 2 Paralipomenon. Condition: very good, except for slight smudging of the initial. This is an exceptional example of Dutch monastic bible production in the late Middle Ages, a trend that gave rise to the Gutenberg Bible.


  • Glossed Gospels for a Paris Master. Single folio on vellum. France, doubtless Paris, ca. 1225: 360 mm x 246 mm (justification, 226 mm x 132 mm). Triple column, ruled for 51 lines in plummet. Decoration: alternating red and blue pilcrows; three red and blue initials with contrasting 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 verso to indicate that the text continues onto the following folio. Text: Io 16.33 <lo>cutus sum … 17.10 clarificatus. Provenance: from a bible once in the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps, probably his number 13805. Condition: very slightly soiled in the upper margin, with some trivial cockling.
  • Gregory the Great’s Homiliae in Ezechielem Prophetam (“Homilies on the Prophet Ezekiel”). Single folio on vellum of a major monastic text in miniature format. Italy, ca. 1250-1275: 147 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. Interpreting 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 particular manuscript 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: clean, bright, and fine with generous margins. A marginal notation or two in a contemporary hand.


  • A Handsome Folio Bible from Italy. Single folio on vellum. Italy, then France (doubtless Paris) for illumination, ca. 1275: 236 mm x 172 mm (justification, 154 mm x 104 mm). Double column, 48 lines. Foliation altered to 130. Decoration: two four-line initials, one red the other blue, with contrasting penwork; alternating red and blue initials for 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. Corrections to the text are added in the margins, indicated by red pen. Text: 2 Kings (2 Samuel) 1.5 nos … 3.25 fictilis. 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).
  • “Interpretation of Hebrew Names” from the St. Albans Abbey Bible. Single folio on vellum. Paris, ca. 1330: 276 mm x 188 mm. Triple column, 46 lines in a Gothic hand in brown ink. Decoration: headings in red, one-line initials alternately of blue and gold, intricate and busy line-fillers in red and blue, some with gold highlights. 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. However, the “Interpretation of Hebrew Names” had long before that date been separated from the rest of the book. With the exception of folios with historiated initials, leaves from it are, by far, the rarest. 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 cockled and creased, as shown, and soiled overall, especially in the lower margin, but still very appealing because of the fine and elaborate decoration.
  • Early English Luxury Bible in “Square Format.” Single folio on vellum. England, doubtless Oxford at this date, ca. 1240: 263 mm x 191 mm (justification, 195 mm x 133 mm). Double column, 54 lines. A curious “square” format typical of English bibles at this date. Unprecedented are the illuminated pilcrows of extreme precision. Decoration: alternatively red and blue two-line initials with contrasting penwork; chapter numbers in blue and red with gold pilcrows of delicate and impressive execution; running heads in alternating red and blue initials. Text: 1 Macc. 4-6. Provenance: completely unknown, not recorded in the Schoenberg Database and possibly from an old American collection. Condition: one slight offset and smudge on the verso, else fine; gauffered edges.
  • Early English Bible of Monastic Provenance. Single folio on vellum. England, ca. 1220: 278 mm x 202 mm (justification, 194 mm x 113 mm). Double column, 60 lines. Ruled in plummet. Foliated 194 in modern pencil. An usual artifact of production remains in the inner margins, where each prick hole made for the ruling is visible. These even show corrections. Decoration: Alternating red and blue capitals in chapter numbers and running heads. The chapter numbers appear to have been added, as other folios have indications of older capitula divisions. Text: Ezekiel 42.3-45.23. Provenance: Possible from the Francisan convent of Waterbeach near Cambridge, afterwards owned by Thomas Lever (d. 1577), Master of St. John’s College, Cambridge, and apparently sold on 29 May 1786 by Sotheby’s. From the collection of Cleveland dealer Otto F. Ege; see S. Gwara, Otto Ege’s Manuscripts (Cayce, SC, 2013), Handlist 6. Condition: excellent; one natural vellum flaw in lower margin, and one thin area with a small hole.


  • Italian Pocket Bible from the Book of Sirach. Decorative Pocket Bible, ca. 1260. Single folio on vellum. Italy, ca. 1260: 187 mm x 126 mm (justification, 121 mm x 80 mm). Double column, 41 lines. Foliated 75 in modern pencil in the lower right-hand corner. Decoration: four two-line initials in red and blue with contrasting penwork terminating in swags or fireworks; multiple one-line initials alternating red and blue; running heads in alternating red and blue initials. Texts: Sirach 10.9 superbis … 12.19 pla<udebit>. Provenance: from a fragmentary volume of a bible sold at Sotheby’s on 6 December 2001 lot 57. Condition: very lightly toned on the edges, otherwise excellent.
  • French Pocket Bible from the Book of Ezekiel. Single folio on vellum. France, ca. 1250: 199 mm x 137 mm (justification, 135 mm x 86 mm). Double column, 56 lines. Ruled in plummet. Decoration: multi-line red and blue initials with contrasting penwork; alternating red and blue initials in running heads and chapter numbers. Text: Ezekiel 28.19 <ob>stupescent … 31.17 descendent. This folio has innumerable cruces and corrections, including the re-location of a chapter number on the verso. Condition: the vellum is so thin that the ink has slightly burned through it in places; it must be held up to a light to see the effects of this caustic ink.


  • Breviary with Readings from the Book of Maccabees. Single folio on vellum. Italy, ca. 1375: 332 mm x 233 mm (justification, 226 mm x 164 mm). Double column, 29 lines. Decoration: rubrication. Text: 2 Maccabees 1.4 <ad>aperiat … 2 Maccabees 2.1 quod. This is an excellent example of text and layout from a liturgical book that resembles a bible. The text is entirely biblical, but here it is divided by paraphs for liturgical readings. Condition: soiled and creased, with a cantle missing from the lower margin.
  • Noted Breviary of Monastic Use. Single folio on vellum. Northern France, ca. 1325: 236 mm x 165 mm (justification, 155 mm x 103 mm); staff measurement: 11.5 mm. Single column, 24 lines. Foliated cccliii in medieval pen and 353 in early modern pen. The twelve lessons indicate monastic Use. A very interesting addition in the lower margin of the verso indicated by a signe-de-renvoi. Decoration: five multi-line initials in alternating red and blue with contrasting penwork; rubricated. Texts: these represent an assortment of Patristic and Scriptural texts. The lessons X, XI, and XII all come from St. Augustine’s Homily 104; the sung responsory derives from the Magnificat (Lc 1.46-55); the Gospel lesson begins at Lc 10:38. Condition: very good, with the exception of a tear in the bottom margin, now “repaired” with a patch of glued-on vellum.
  • Illuminated Italian Missal. Single folio on vellum. Northern Italy, ca. 1425: 350 mm x 253 mm (justification, 232 mm x 163 mm). Double column, 29 lines. Decoration: one four-line initial D in blue, green, orange, pink, yellow, and tan highlighted with white-lead penwork on gold grounds with five gold bezants; seven two-line initials in red or blue with contrasting penwork; alternating red and blue one-line initials; rubricated. Texts: Feasts of the Apostles Peter and Paul, the Apostle Matthew, and Perpetua and Felicitas. Cited Scriptural texts include: Acts 1.15 In diebus … 1.26 apostolis. Condition: good, the text on the recto slightly worn but legible, the leaf creased across the initial, and in the outer margin; some soiling, especially in lower right-hand corner.
  • Florentine Illuminated Antiphonal or Choir Psalter. Single cutting on vellum. Italy, doubtless Florence, ca. 1500: 308 mm x 172 mm. Decoration: five-line initial D of Dixit Dominus (Ps 110), in bright palette of green, aqua, rose, and orange on liquid gold grounds with red speckles; floriated marginal swags of the same colors, with blossoms and an acorn, filling the margins and terminating in gold bezants; alternating red and blue versal initials. Text: truncated text of Ps 110. Provenance: acquired on 1 February 1991 from the estate of Rabbi Gershon Hadas (d. 1980), Congregation Beth Shalom, Overland Park, KS. Condition: worn, as depicted, some thin creases, one superficial tear.
  • Handsome Missal Leaf with Text from Christmas Eve Mass. Single folio on vellum. Germany, ca. 1475: 370 mm x 277 mm (justification, 248 mm x 174 mm). Double column, 35 lines. Ruled in diluted ink, and written in a bold Gothic script. Some instructions to the rubricator in plummet. Decoration: multi-line initials in red or blue; capitals touched in red; running heads in red; rubricated. Provenance: from the collection of Otto F. Ege; see S. Gwara, Otto Ege’s Manuscripts (Cayce, SC, 2013), Handlist 33; collection of William Chmurny (d. 2013). Condition: excellent, except for very trivial cockling, a minor vellum repair made during manufacture, and evidence of hinges at top and sides.


  • Decorative Folio from a French Book of Hours. Single folio on vellum. Northern France, ca. 1440: 181 mm x 131 mm (justification, 97 mm x 65 mm). Single column, 15 lines. Unfoliated. Decoration: a single two-line initial in blue on gold grounds with delicate white penwork and infilled with orange foliate designs, attached to a bar border in gold and pink that terminates in a spray of gold ivy leaves; eleven one-line dentelle initials; fine line-fillers of similar style; rubricated. Text: Pss 3 and 116 (a distinctive configuration) from Prime in the Hours of the Virgin. Condition: good, with very wide margins; some soiling and creasing, especially in the extreme upper right-hand corner.
  • Penitential Psalms from a Book of Hours. Single folio on vellum. Northern France, ca. 1470: 163 mm x 126 mm (justification, 89 mm x 66 mm). Single column, 12 lines. Ruled in diluted red ink. Unfoliated. Decoration: a single two-line initial M in gold on pink and blue grounds with white penwork details; eight one-line dentelle initials, the same line-fillers in pink and blue with gold dots and white-lead highlights. Text: Ps 37.20 Inimici … 37.23 … Gloria Patri … Ps 50.1 Miserere … 50.5 semper. Condition: good, with dense black ink, the extreme gutter soiled.
  • Diminutive Ferial Psalter of Sarum Use. Single folio on vellum. Southern England, ca. 1420: 103 mm x 72 mm (59 mm x 37 mm). Single column, 14 lines. Decoration: two-line initial I 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 blue and red flowers; eight alternating blue and gold versal initials with contrasting penwork (purple on gold, red on blue); single blue liner-filler. Text: Ps 118.111 <exsulta>tio … 118.112 retributionem; 119.113 Iniquos … 118.120 ti<more >. Condition: In monastic Use, this Psalm is often divided into smaller sections to be recited in the Hours of the Virgin. But because the eighth section of Ps 118 (beginning “Iniquos”) simply runs on from the seventh, the folio comes from a Ferial Psalter, which would have accompanied a Book of Hours. Condition: excellent.
  • Diminutive Book of Hours from Italy. Small-scale Hours with Italian gold. Single folio on vellum. Northern Italy, ca. 1500: 102 mm x 74 mm (justification, 54 mm x 38 mm). Single column, 12 lines. Decoration: one two-line initial in gold with purple penwork; blue and gold one-line initials with contrasting penwork; rubricated. Text: end of Psalm 40 and opening of Psalm 41 for the third nocturn of Matins in the Office of the Dead. Condition: excellent.
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