TextmanuscriptTextmanuscripts - Les Enluminures

les Enluminures

Vulgate Bible

In Latin, illuminated manuscript on parchment
France (Paris), 1250-1260

TM 913

Parchment pastedown from earlier manuscript (described below) + vi (parchment) + 640 folios on parchment (very thin) + iii (i, leaf from an earlier manuscript, partially pasted down + ii, inserted bifolium, all parchment), modern foliation in pencil top outer corner recto, complete (collation i-xv24 xvi28 xvii-xxiii24 xiv26 xxv24 xxvi20 xxvii12 [structure uncertain, -9 through12, cancelled blanks, plus two leaves, ff. 639-649, added after 7]), no catchwords, ad hoc quire signatures in quires 11, 13-22, with letters numbering the leaves and symbols designating the quire, ruled very lightly in lead with an extra set of double rules for the running titles in the upper margin, single vertical bounding lines outer margins and between the columns usually full length (justification 98-94 x 64-62 mm.), written below the top line in a gothic bookhand in two columns of forty-five lines, majuscules within text touched by red, red rubrics, red and blue running titles and roman numerals numbering the chapters, one-line alternately red and blue initials, two-line alternately red and blue initials with pen decoration in the opposite color, often extending the full length of the page, some with partial red and blue ‘J’ motifs, ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY 2- to 10-line ILLUMINATED FOLIATE initials (with ‘I’ extending up to 34 lines), EIGHT HISTORIATED INITIALS (described below), overall in excellent condition, initials ff. 1 and 4, slightly rubbed, f. 1, darkened, ff. 1-38v, with some stains in the very outer margins, never affecting the text, quite minor after the first 8 leaves, slight staining outer margins ff. 623-634, very small hole lower margin f. 240, lower outer corners occasionally a bit frayed, a few discrete modern repairs (e.g. ff. 241, 376, 401). Modern (nineteenth- or twentieth-century) diced brown leather binding over early wooden boards, spine with seven slightly raised bands, paper spine label hand lettered, “Biblia sacra./ XIIIe Sc.”, in excellent condition, brown leather fitted case by Zaehnsdorf.  Dimensions 145 x 95 mm.

Complete, and in excellent condition, this is an excellent example of a thirteenth-century Paris Bible – the Bibles that were the direct ancestors of Bibles we still read today. The decorative scheme of illuminated initials before every book of the Bible includes eight historiated initials that are fine examples of the work of two Parisian ateliers.  Of special interest are neat corrections to the text throughout, some comparing the text to different biblical versions.  Pastedowns and endleaves from thirteenth-century manuscripts are part of the modern binding.


1. Written and illuminated in Paris in the middle of the thirteenth century, c. 1250-1260.  The fine quality of the parchment, the consistency of the quire structure (almost all quires of 24), and the quality of the penwork and illumination are all typical of commercially-produced manuscripts made in Paris at this time. 

The style of the pen initials can be compared with other Parisian manuscripts from the third quarter of the thirteenth century (similar to Stirnemann, 1990, pp. 70, and 73, cat. 37, Paris, BnF, MS Lat 226, cat. 38, Paris, BnF, MS Lat 10426, and cat. 39, and Paris, BnF, MS lat 16541).  The historiated initials can be attributed to two ateliers, the Mathurin atelier, traditionally thought to be active in Paris from the 1240s until the mid-1250s, and the Aurifaber atelier, active c. 1250-1290.   It is possible that the general level of expense for this Bible changed mid-stream, since some of the foliate initials were painted over decorated pen initials.

2. Scribal errors were carefully corrected throughout, often boxed in red.  Corrections of this sort are very common in Parisian Bibles of this period.  Much less usual is the fact that this Bible was corrected twice; the second corrector, also almost certainly contemporary, uses a more cursive script.  Many of these corrections are also boxed in red.  Perhaps this is the work of the first owner or user of this Bible. 

These corrections are very interesting, since they show knowledge of one of the thirteenth-century Franciscan or Dominican correctoria to the Bible (works that listed textual readings found in different biblical versions, including the Hebrew).  Three examples of many:  at the end of Jeremiah, the text includes (as is often the case), the short preface beginning “Et factum est …” copied as part of the text; in the margin there is a note explaining this is not found in the Hebrew (f. 370, “H. non habent usque ad aleph,” an observation found in three of the correctoria, Hug., Guill., Jac, in the critical edition); on f. 376, the scribe or first corrector added a short passage in the lower margin (Ezechiel 1:17), which is found in some manuscripts of the Paris Bible; the second corrector disagreed, noting that this passage was not found in Jerome, the ancients and the gloss; and on f. 411v, there is a note referring to a passage in Hosea stating that this reading is not in the textus, but it is found when this passage is read in church, again following correctoria.

The scribe copied several prologues as part of the preceding biblical books (ff. 415, 420, 426v); this second corrector noted the errors in the margins.

3. In the sixteenth century belonged to the Cluniac Abbey of St. Peter in Le Boupère (in Latin, Alba petra), in the Pays de la Loire region in Northwestern France (about 110 km from Poiters); f. 1, top margin, “Ex libris Bibliotecae Sancti Petri de albapetra de ordinis Cluniacensis 1544.”

4. Later notes, bottom margin f. 284v, have been thoroughly scribbled over and are illegible; see also f. 407v, a fifteenth- or sixteent-century inscription, “A moy <wiard?>  <ful…?>  <L?> <?>.”


Parchment pastedown (inside front cover), incipit, “//Transierunt curs<im>.  Sic loquitur <prophe>ta de future … habuerunt ibi diuersorum”;

Haimo of Halberstadt, Commentary on Isaiah; printed in Migne, Patrologia latina, vol. 116, col. 778 (beginning at line 8).

Most likely one column of a larger manuscript, Northern France, c. 1200-1220, now trimmed so it is missing text at the left and part of the last line, and glued upside down as a pastedown, ruled in lead (justification 142 x c. 70 mm.), copied in an early gothic bookhand with one column of twenty-one lines preserved here.  Dimensions 145 x 87 mm.

A strip from a different manuscript, with part of two lines (copied in two columns) was used to fill in the space between the pastedown and the gutter (a long strip oriented vertically to the rest of the manuscript). 

At the back, offset script is visible, suggesting that at one time another leaf (or part of a leaf), was glued in a similar position as a pastedown; remaining is a leaf positioned vertically along the gutter, and extending as a flyleaf, with text from Gregory, Regula pastoralis, printed in Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 77, col. 14A.

ff. i-v, [added parchment leaves], Biblia Sacra. Mss. Sec. xiii.  Tabula Biblica, incipit, “Prologus Hyeronymi, captitula viii; Apocalypsis, xxii; Index Biblicus”;

Leaves added, probably in the nineteenth century, listing the biblical books followed by the numbers of chapters in each in red and blue on the recto only, leaving the versos blank.

ff. 1-584v, Latin Bible, with prologues as follows:  f. 1, [General prologue] Frater ambrosius [Stegmüller 284]; f. 4, [prologue to Genesis] Desiderii mei [Stegmüller 285]; f. 4v, Genesis; f. 26, Exodus; f. 44v, Leviticus; f. 57, Numbers; f. 75, Deuteronomy; f. 90, [prologue to Joshua] Tandem finito [Stegmüller  311]; f. 90, Joshua; f. 101v, Judges; f. 113, Ruth; f. 114v, [prologue to Kings] Viginti et duas [Stegmüller 323], f. 115v, 1 Kings; f. 131v, 2 Kings; f. 144, 3 Kings; f.159, 4 Kings; f. 172v, [prologue to Chronicles] Si septuaginta [Stegmüller  328]; f. 173, 1 Chronicles; f. 184v, [prologue] Eusebius ieronimus … Quomodo grecorum [Stegmüller 327]; f. 185, 2 Chronicles, concluding with the Oratio Manasse; f. 201, [prologue to Ezra] Utrum difficilius [Stegmüller 330]; f. 202, 1 Ezra; f. 206v, Nehemiah; f. 213, 2 Ezra; f. 220v, [prologue to Tobit] Chromatio et  heliodoro ….  Mirari non desino [Stegmüller 332]; f. 220v, Tobit; f. 225, [prologue to Judith] Apud hebreos [Stegmüller  335]; f. 225, Judith; f. 231v, [prologue to Esther] Librum hester; Rursum in libro [Stegmüller  341 and 343, copied as one prologue]; f. 231v, Esther; f. 237v, [prologue to Job] Cogor per singulos [Stegmüller 344]; f. 232, [prologue to Job] Si aut fiscellam [Stegmüller 357]; f. 238v, Job; f. 250v, Psalms; f. 278v, [prologue to Proverbs] Iungat epistola [Stegmüller 457]; f. 279, Proverbs; f. 289, [prologue to Ecclesiastes] Memini me [Stegmüller 462]; f. 289, Ecclesiastes; f. 292v , Song of Songs; f. 294v, [prologue to Wisdom] Liber sapientie [Stegmüller 468]; f. 294v, Wisdom; f. 301, [biblical introduction to Ecclesiasticus, copied as a prologue] Multorum nobis; f. 301v, Ecclesiasticus, without the Prayer of Solomon]; f. 320v, [prologue to Isaiah] Nemo cum prophetas [Stegmüller 482]; f. 321, Isaiah; f. 344v, [prologue to Jeremiah] Ieremias propheta [Stegmüller 487]; f. 344v, Jeremiah; f. 370, Lamentations; f. 372v, [prologue to Baruch] Liber iste [Stegmüller 491]; f. 372v, Baruch; f. 375v, [prologue to Ezechiel] Ezechiel propheta [Stegmüller 492]; f. 376, Ezechiel; f. 400v, [prologue to Daniel] Danielem prophetam [Stegmüller 494]; f. 401v, Daniel; f. 411v, [prologue to Minor prophets] Non idem ordo est [Stegmüller 500]; f. 411v, [prologue to Hosea] Temporibus ozie [Stegmüller 507]; f. 412, Hosea; f. 415, [prologue to Joel] Sanctus ioel [Stegmüller 511]; f. 415v, [prologue] Ioel fatuel filius [Stegmüller 510]; f. 415v, Joel; f. 417, [prologue to Amos] Ozias rex [Stegmüller 515]; f. 417, [prologue] Amos propheta [Stegmüller 512]; f. 417, [prologue] Hic amos [Stegmüller 513]; f. 417v, Amos; f. 420, [prologue Obadiah] Iacob patriarcha; Hebrei [Stegmüller 519 and 517 copied as one prologue]; f. 420v, Obadiah; f. 420v, [prologue to Jonah] Sanctum ionam [Stegmüller 524]; f. 421, [prologue] Ionas columba et dolens [Stegmüller 521]; f. 421, Jonah; f. 422, [prologue Micah] Temporibus ioathe [Stegmüller 526]; f. 422, Micah; f. 424, [prologue to Nahum] Naum prophetam [Stegmüller 528]; f. 424, Nahum; f. 425, [prologue to Habakkuk] Quatuor prophete [Stegmüller 531]; f. 426, Habbakuk; f. 426v, [prologue to Zephaniah] Tradunt hebrei [Stegmüller 534]; f. 427, Zephaniah; f. 428, [prologue to Haggai] Ieremias propheta [Stegmüller 538]; f. 428v, Haggai; f. 429, [prologue to Zechariah] In anno secundo [Stegmüller 539]; f. 429v, Zechariah; f. 433v, [prologue to Malachi] Deus per moysen [Stegmüller 543]; f. 433v, Malachi; f. 435, [prologue to Maccabees] Domino excellentisimo …,  Cum sim promptus [Stegmüller 547]; f. 435, [prologue] Reuerentissimo …, Memini me [Stegmüller 553]; f. 435v, [prologue] Machabeorum librum duo [Stegmüller 551]; f. 435v, 1 Maccabees; f. 451v, 2 Maccabees; f. 462v, [prologue to Matthew] Matheus ex iudea [Stegmüller 590]; f. 463, [prologue to Matthew] Matheus cum primo [Stegmüller 589]; f. 463, Matthew; f. 479, [prologue to Mark] Marchus evangelista [Stegmüller  607];  f. 479 , Mark; f. 489, [prologue to Luke] Lucas syrus natione [Stegmüller 620]; f. 489, Quoniam quidem [Luke 1:1-4 treated as a prologue]; f. 489, Luke ; f.  505v, [prologue to John] Hic est Iohannes [Stegmüller 634] ; f. 506, John; f. 518v, [prologue to Romans] Romani sunt in partes ytalie … scribens eis a chorinto [Stegmüller 677]; f. 519, Romans; f. 524v, [prologue to 1 Corinthians] Corinthi sunt achaici [Stegmüller 685]; f. 524v, 1 Corinthians; f. 531, [prologue to 2 Corinthians] Post actam [Stegmüller 699]; f. 531, 2 Corinthians; f. 535, [prologue to Galatians] Galathe sunt greci [Stegmüller 707]; f. 535, Galatians; f. 537, [prologue to Ephesians] Ephesii sunt asiani [Stegmüller 715]; f. 537, Ephesians; f. 539, [prologue to Philippians] Philippenses sunt macedones [Stegmüller 728]; f. 539, Philippians; f. 540v, [prologue to Colossians] Colosenses et hii [Stegmüller 736]; f. 540v, Colossians; f. 542, [prologue to 1 Thessalonians] Thessalonicenses sunt macedones [Stegmüller 747]; f. 542, 1 Thessalonians; f. 543v, [prologue to 2 Thessalonians] Ad thessalonicenses [Stegmüller 752]; f. 543v, 2 Thessalonians; f. 544, [prologue to 1 Timothy] Timotheum instruit [Stegmüller 765]; f. 544, 1 Timothy; f. 545v, [prologue to 2 Timothy] Item Timotheo scribit [Stegmüller 772]; f. 545v, 2 Timothy; f. 547, [prologue to Titus] Tithum commonefacit [Stegmüller 780]; f. 547, Titus; f. 547v, [prologue to Philemon] Philemoni familiares [Stegmüller 783]; f. 548, Philemon; f. 548, [prologue to Hebrews] In primis dicendum [Stegmüller 793] ; f. 548, Hebrews; f. 553, [prologue to Acts] Lucas antiocenses natione syrus [Stegmüller 640]; f. 553, Acts; f. 569v, [prologue to Catholic Epistles] Non ita est ordo [Stegmüller 809]; f. 570, James; f. 571v, 1 Peter; f. 573, 2 Peter; f. 574, 1 John; f. 575v, 2 John; f. 575v, 3 John;  f. 576, Jude; f. 576, [prologue to Apocalypse] Omnes qui pie [Stegmüller 839]; f. 577, Apocalypse [ending with scribal colophon, “Gratia domini nostri ihesu christi cum omnibus uobis Amen”];

ff. 584-637v, incipit, “Aaz apprehendens uel apprehensio …  Zuzim consiliantes eos uel consiliantores eorum”;

The usual version of the Interpretations of Hebrew Names, commonly found in Bibles dating after c. 1230; Stegmüller, 1950-1980, no. 7709; printed numerous times in the fifteenth century, and in the seventeenth century, when it was included in among the works of Bede, Cologne, 1612, 3:371-480; there is no modern edition, despite the text’s great importance for the history of the Bible, exegesis and preaching in the High Middle Ages.  The text is attributed in one manuscript (Montpellier, Bibl. de la Faculté de Médecine, MS 341) to Stephen Langton (d. 1228), but this attribution has recently been questioned (Murano, 2010).

f. 637v, incipt, “Ysa. xii a, Confitebor tibi domini ….”; [ff. 638-640, blank but ruled];

Brief list of canticles (six lines) added in a contemporary hand at the end of Interpretations of Hebrew Names.

Back flyleaf, f. i verso, incipit, “Disce per hoc scriptum quid sit uel quando legendum/ … bis sex in fine prophetas”;

Added 16-lines of mnemonic verse on readings for the liturgical year in a fifteenth-century cursive gothic (Walther, 1959, 4536).


This Bible is fully illustrated with illuminated initials before almost every prologue and biblical book.  Most of the initials are non-figurative “rinceaux” or “foliate” initials; books of the Bible are introduced by 7- to 9-line initials of white patterned pink or blue, infilled and on grounds of the contrasting color, with spirals of thin stems ending in simple leaves and animal heads, in shades of blue and dull pink, with white highlights, white dots, and touches of dark gold, bronze in color, and often incorporating round gold balls and long-necked dragons.  Prologues are introduced with similar 2- to 4-line (with “I” extending up to 14-lines) initials.

Initials on ff. 172v, 173, 184v, 185 were painted over a pen initial; several other prologues begin with decorated pen initials (e.g. ff. 278v, 426v, 547v).

Eight books are introduced by historiated initials, done in two different styles.  Six can be grouped generally with the artists that Robert Branner dubbed the Mathurin atelier, which he believed was active in Paris in the 1240s until the mid-1250s (Branner, 1977, Appendix VG, and 75-77); the evidence of this manuscript suggests the work of this atelier may have continued later than previously thought. The initials exhibit the general characteristics of this atelier: a restrained palate, with pink and blue predominating, figures that are heavily edged in black, smooth drapery with a few shadows and occasional ink lines, and white faces with large noses.  The skill of this artist, however, is rather better than those illustrated by Branner; here we can see a real expressiveness in the faces; the initial before 1 Kings, which is larger, and includes two soldiers dressed in mail, is a particularly successful composition.

The first two initials depict St. Jerome and the Creation (introducing the general prologue and Genesis) are by the Aurifaber atelier – the atelier was active c. 1250 into the 1290s.  Our manuscript belongs to the earlier years of this atelier (in general, see Branner, 1977, pp. 109-118, appendix VO; the figures and iconography in fig. 320, Basel, Museum KK, inv. A 11, p. 7, are particularly close to those in our manuscript).   The more sophisticated drapery, the broader range of colors, and the elegant shape of the figures all are in keeping with the new style that Branner calls the “mature” Paris style.  It was not uncommon for artists to collaborate, and indeed, the Mathurin and Aurifaber ateliers also collaborated in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Canon bibl. Lat. 15 (Branner, 1977, p. 214, and figs. 167, 317).

Subjects as follows:

f. 1, 7-line initial, extending full-length of the written space, Jerome, writing (slightly rubbed);

f. 4v, Genesis. running full-length of the written space, with seven scenes of the creation enclosed in quatrefoils (slightly rubbed, especially the face of God in most scenes);

f. 115v, 1 Kings, 12-line initial, extending full length of the written space, of the beheading of a son of Heli and the theft of the ark;

f. 250v, Psalms, King David with harp;

f. 279, Proverbs, Solomon teaching Rehoboam;

f. 320, Isaiah, martyrdom (being sawn in two by two standing figures);

f. 463, Matthew, 10-line, Tree of Jesse;

f. 519, Romans, 6-line standing figures of Paul holding scroll and sword.

Small, portable Bibles which include the complete text of the Vulgate in one small, although often rather thick, volume revolutionized the use and ownership of the Bible.  The earliest examples of these portable Bibles were copied in Paris at the end of the 1220s or the early 1230s, and the format was adopted quickly throughout Europe.  This Bible is a very compact example of the new “pocket” Bible, small in its overall dimensions, and also not very thick.  It is a volume that is a pleasure to hold and to handle.

Paris was also the center of the dissemination of a new text of the Vulgate, known as the Paris Bible.  The earliest Paris Bibles date from c. 1230.  The biblical books were arranged according to a new order (almost identical to the order still used today), they were divided into new standardized chapters, also basically those still in use, and introduced by a common set of sixty-four pro­logues.  At the end of the Bible, most Paris Bibles include the Interpretations of Hebrew Names, beginning “Aaz apprehendens.” These changes fundamentally altered what the Bible looked like, and how its text was organized.  

This Bible includes all the hallmarks of the Paris Bible, including the new order of the books, modern chapters, the set of sixty-four prologues, the characteristic textual readings, and the usual version of the Interpretations of Hebrew Names.  It is an excellent example of a thirteenth-century Paris Bible – the Bibles that were the direct ancestors of Bibles we still read today. 


Branner, Robert.  Manuscript Painting in Paris during the Reign of Saint Louis, Berkeley, 1977.

De Hamel, Christopher.  The Book. A History of the Bible, London and New York, 2001.

Light, Laura. “The Thirteenth-Century Bible: The Paris Bible and Beyond,” The New Cambridge History of the Bible.  Volume two, c. 600-1450, eds. Richard Marsden and E. Ann Matter, Cambridge, 2012, pp. 380-391.

Light, Laura. “French Bibles c. 1200-30: A new look at the origin of the Paris Bible,” in The Early Medieval Bible. Its production, decoration and use, ed. Richard Gameson, Cambridge, 1994, pp. 155-176.

Murano, Giovanna. “Chi ha scritto le Interpretationes Hebraicorum Nominum?” in Étienne Langton, prédicateur, bibliste, théologien, eds. Louis-Jacques Bataillon, Nicole Bériou, Gilbert Dahan et Riccardo Quinto, Turnhout, 2010, pp. 353-371.

Stegmüller, Fridericus. Repertorium biblicum medii aevi, Madrid, 1950-61, and Supplement, with the assistance of N. Reinhardt, Madrid, 1976-80.

Patricia Stirnemann. “Fils de la vierge.  L’initiale à filigranes parisienne:  1140-1314,” Revue de l’Art 90 (1990), pp. 58-73.

Walther, Hans. Initia carminum ac versuum Medii Aevi posterioris Latinorum (Alphabetisches Verzeichnis der Versanfänge mittellateinischer Dichtungen, ed. Alfons Hilkas, Göttingen, 1959.

Online Resources

Repertorium biblicum medii aevi (digital version of Stegmüller)