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les Enluminures

[Vulgate Bible]. Glossed Proverbs and Ecclesiastes

In Latin, manuscript on parchment
Northern Italy, c. 1150-1175

TM 763

i (parchment flyleaf) + 80 + i (parchment flyleaf) on parchment (quite thin and even but with original holes, sewing, and other imperfections ), modern foliation in pencil bottom outer corner, incomplete, missing an unknown number of quires at the end (collation, i-x8), horizontal catchwords at the very bottom of the leaf in quires 3-7, prickings three outer margins (for the biblical text), ruled for the biblical text only with a very hard plummet that often leaves no trace, with two or three rules on each side of the text column, and with vertical bounding lines at far inside and outside of the page for glosses, no horizontal rules for the glosses visible  (justification text and gloss, 165-157 x 125 mm., text only, 155-153 x 63-50 mm.), copied in several hands (changes of hand at ff. 25, 28v, 44, 46v, 57), but with the first scribe apparently copying most of the text, with the biblical text copied first in a twelfth-century bookhand above the top line in a central column of nineteen long lines in a light brown to black ink, with glosses added in a precise upright smaller script on either side of the text and between the lines as needed, blank spaces for one-line initials (for older chapters), ff. 3v, 5v, and 74, plain red initials (equivalent to one-line of biblical text), f. 15, initial supplied in black, with simple pen decoration, same color, f. 59 (Ecclesiastes), two-line red initial with simple pen decoration in red, f. 1, five-line red initial with simple red pen decoration, primitive running titles added in brown ink, upper margin (in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, modern chapter number, top outer corner recto; in Ecclesisastes, name of biblical book, in very small script), in very good condition, occasional minor stains upper margin, original imperfections in parchment (e.g. f. 72, with small holes and slit, once sewn). Bound in late seventeenth- or eighteenth-century (?) green vellum over pasteboard, spine with four raised bands, with plain gold fillets, title in second compartment in gold on red leather, “Salomo/ Varia/ opvscul/”, in very good condition. Dimensions 230 x 145 mm.

The Glossa Ordinaria was one of the great achievements of the twelfth century – a combination of the scriptural text woven together with patristic and medieval commentaries used by students and teachers until the end of the Middle Ages. This is a small-format, early example. Later owned by the Franciscans in Varese, Italy, this was most likely also copied in Northern Italy, perhaps by someone who had studied in France. The study of the diffusion of this important text in Italy remains an unexplored topic. Glossed Bibles have been surprisingly uncommon on the market in recent years.


1. Evidence of the script and layout suggest that this was copied c. 1150-75.  The use of lead or plummet for the ruling suggests a date mid-century or later, but the script for both the biblical text and gloss is firmly twelfth century: e-cedilla is used occasionally (e.g. f. 54v and elsewhere), “et” (and) is usually abbreviated with a tironian-7, but ampersand is also used, and although “pp” are written together, other letter unions are lacking, even in the glossing script where one might expect to see them first. The manuscript was later owned by the Franciscans at Varese in Northern Italy near Como (see below), and features of the script suggest it may have been copied somewhere in that region; in the biblical text “quid” is usually abbreviated in the southern fashion, with a horizontal line through the descender, although the “northern” abbreviation (“q” with a superscript “i” is also used); note also the form of the tironian-7 used by the main scribe. In addition to the original glosses, glosses were added in at least two hands; the script of these slightly later hands is rounder, and more characteristically Italian.

The small size and the layout of this volume, with the biblical text copied first in a larger script in a central column, and the glosses added in a smaller script on either side and between the lines, are most often found in glossed manuscripts dating before c. 1160-70. This is certainly true of books copied in northern France and Paris, where this simple format was replaced around then by the more complex alternate-line format where text and Gloss were copied together (de Hamel, 1984). It must be noted, however, that no one has studied the format found in manuscripts copied in Italy (it would be a rewarding topic for research). It does seem that that the conservative “simple format” was used longer there than in Paris (Smith, 2009, p. 154, and cf. the Italian glossed books at Harvard, Houghton Library in Light, 1988, cat. 31, 33, 34).

In this manuscript, the biblical text is copied on ruled lines; no ruling appears to have been added for the glosses. The width of the central column of biblical text varies somewhat, but seemingly in an arbitrary fashion (not to make room for lengthier glosses). There are pages where the margins are largely blank because there is very little gloss to be copied, and others which are very crowded. 

2. Glosses were added by at least two early hands, as were the indications of modern biblical chapters (see below), both within the text and in the upper margin; in Ecclesiastes, this early hand also added the name of the biblical book in a very small script in the upper margins. These additions are evidence that the book was actively used for a generation or so; the lack of later additions is notable. The question of exactly where a book like this one was copied is important, but unfortunately very difficult to answer given the state of current research. Was it copied for a student or master in a cathedral school in Northern Italy, from a French exemplar? The diffusion of the Glossa Ordinaria in Italy – based on the study of manuscripts such as the one described here – is an important and interesting topic, but one that has yet to be undertaken by modern scholars.

3. Belonged to the Franciscan monastery of Sancta Maria Annunciata at Varese (near Lake Como); their stamp, a circle divided into four parts with the letters, SMAV, on f. 79v, and probably formerly in the lower margin, f. 1 (now erased). This stamp has been identified in eleven manuscripts and in nine incunables; many books from this library are now in the British Library, including Harley MSS 2353, 2810, 3368, 5128, 5367, and 3811 (see Watson, 2004, and Illuminated Manuscripts in the British Library, Online Resources). An Observant House, founded c. 1469; its church was consecrated in 1476 (see Moorman, 1983, p. 500). In 1725 they sold a number of their possessions, possibly including manuscripts, to finance an enlargement of their church, and certainly additional books were likely alienated over the course of the century. In 1810 when the church and convent were suppressed, however, their library was still considerable (some of their books were burned at this time; others were dispersed to various libraries, including the Biblioteca Civica of Varese, and the Biblioteca Queriniana of Brescia).

4. Belonged to Carlo Mòrbio (1811-1881), scholar, bibliographer and numismatist, author of a history of Novara, and numerous studies on French manuscripts in Italy; some of his manuscripts are now in the Biblioteca Brera, Milan; his sale, List and Francke, June 24, 1889, no. 281 (Schoenberg Database 225717).

5. Belonged to Max Ritter von Wilmersdörffer (1824-1903); his armorial bookplate, inside front cover, colored armorial bookplate, “Ex libris Max. v. Wilmersdoerffer”, dated 1897; he purchased the manuscript from the Carlo Mòrbio collection in 1889 (note in pen, below his bookplate). Wilmersdörffer was a prominent financier and philanthropist, who was well read in the German classics, and an authority on numismatics. His bookplate is also found in University of Pennsylvania, MS Codex 852, Giacomo Caimo, Commentary on the Institutiones of Justinian, dated 1743; and in Catalogue of the Sixth Annual Exhibition of the Ex Libris Society, June 10th & 11th, 1897, p. 20, no. 58, where it is attributed to the well-known armorist Otto Hup.

6. Venator and Hanstein, Catalogue 126, March 22, 2013 no. 645.


ff. 1-58v, [Proverbs, first gloss, upper margin], incipit, “Notandum quod uulgata editio  parabolas quae hebraice masloth …”; [left margin], “Ad intelligenda uerba prudentie. Non solum sapientiam quam perceperunt amplectantur et discipline …”; “Quid autem utilitates habent …”; “Ad holescenti singulariter quia quos sapientia …”; “Ad holoscenti scientia et. Id est qui prudenter declinat …”; [right margin], “Parabole grece. Latine similitudines quod uocabulum ideo Salomon …”; “Astutia, que incipentibus neccesaria  …”

ff. 1-58v, Proverbs, biblical text, incipit, “Parabole [interlinear glosses: Latine similitudo. Hebraice masloth. Attentum facit. Id est parabolis salomonis] salamonis [pacifici] filii dauid [argumentum a natura] …”;

ff. 58v-80v, [Ecclesiastes; introductory glosses are copied in the margins at the end of Proverbs, f. 58v; left margin], incipit, “Jeronimus. Verba ecclesiastes filii david regis id est tribus nominibus …”; [right margin], “Tradunt hebrei hunc est librum salomonis …”; “Gregorius. Quomodo hic liber sit legendus et exponendus …”; [f. 59, upper margin], “Jeronimus. Pro vanitatem vanitatum secundum quosdam interpretates possumus dicere uaporem …”; [f. 59, left margin], “Vanitas omnis homo uivens quanto magis cetera. Vnde uanitati creatura subiecta est …”; “Male opinatur quidam nos his uerbis ad uoluptatem luxuriamque …”; [f. 59, right margin], “Augustinus. Pacificus et dilectus dei patris et ecclesiastes …”; “Generatio preterit etc. Prima recedit generatio iudeorum …”;

ff. 58v-80v, Ecclesiastes, biblical text, incipit, “Uerba ecclesiastes [interlinear gloss: concionatoris] filii [paterna dignitas] dauid [propria auctoritas] ierusalem … pro omni erra [sic, “tu” added above line] siue bonum siue malum sit”//

Proverbs and Ecclesiastes with the Glossa Ordinaria; the text of Ecclesiastes now ends imperfectly at Ecclesiastes 12:14, but it seems quite likely that this was always a small volume with only these two books of the Bible (Bamberg, SB, Bibl. 69, for example, an early twelfth-century copy from Laon, dating before 1135-40, includes only Proverbs and Ecclesiastes). There is no modern edition of this text, nor has it been printed. The editio princeps, which was printed in Strassburg in 1481 by Rusch is useful as a working edition of the Ordinary Gloss, but it often differs in important respects from the manuscripts (facsimile edition, Froehlich and Gibson, 1992, also available online, and there is a current project underway to prepare an online hyper-text edition, see Online Resources; see also Zier, 2004, pp. 165-168, for examples of some of these differences). To date there are critical editions only of the Glossa Ordinaria of Canticles and part of Lamentations (Dove, 1997, and André, 2005). In general, the text in this manuscript corresponds to that printed in Rusch, but there are certainly discrepancies. Similarly the text outlined in Stegmüller, 11802-11803, is similar, but does not correspond exactly with the text in this manuscript; for example, Proverbs: marginal glosses, nos. 2 and 3 in Stegmüller are not included here; Ecclesiastes, marginal gloss no. 5 in Stegmüller is not included, and in both cases there are some differences in the interlinear gloss.

There is currently no census of manuscripts of the Gloss, although steps in that direction are being made. The Gloss was enormously popular, and may survive in more than 2,000 manuscripts; there are 400 manuscripts of the Gloss in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, and perhaps 600 in the French Departmental libraries alone (see Zier, 2004). Manuscripts of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes may be among the most common, as Zier’s analysis of the manuscripts at the BnF suggests: Gloss on John and Luke, 49 and 47 copies; Song of Songs, 46 copies, and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, with 42 and 41 copies (Zier, 2004, p. 162). 

The text known as the Ordinary Gloss on the Bible (or the Glossa Ordinaria), was one of the twelfth century’s greatest achievement, and one that had a lasting influence on the history of biblical exegesis, creating a text that was used as the standard school text to the end of the Middle Ages and even later. It consists of the biblical text, copied in a distinctive, larger script, accompanied by patristic and medieval commentaries on the text, copied in a smaller script on the same page. Texts by numerous authors are reflected in the commentary, including Patristic authors such as Jerome, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Isidore, and Bede, and, less commonly, Origen, John Chrysostom, and Ambrose, as well as later authors such as Rabanus Maurus, John Scotus Eriugena, Lanfranc and Berengar.  The Bible and its Gloss gave readers – often teachers and students of the Bible – access to the complete biblical text and commentaries in one convenient location.

The textual history of the Glossa Ordinaria is complicated, and one that historians since Beryl Smalley, who published her first exploration of the topic in the 1930s, have pieced together bit by bit. The collection that we now know as the Ordinary Gloss seems to have originated at the Cathedral School of Laon c. 1100 with the teaching of the master Anselm of Laon (d. 1117), and his pupils and successors, in particular his brother Ralph (d. 1134), Gilbert the Universal, who left Laon in 1128, and Gilbert of Poitiers, active until 1154. It was not a text written, or even conceived of, by a single author, but rather the result of a long process that gradually grew to include all the book of the Bible. Manuscripts of the Gloss were occasionally copied as complete sets, in a widely varying number of volumes, ranging from ten or so volumes to more than twenty, but often single books of the Bible, or groups of books, were copied as needed.

The textual history of the Gloss on Proverbs and Ecclesiastes seems to begin at Laon; glossed copies of these books are found among the earliest glossed books copied at Laon before 1140 (Stirnemann, 1994, p. 262; Smith, 2009, p. 32). The main sources for the Gloss on Proverbs are commentaries by Bede and Ps.-Bede with some use of Jerome as well. The Gloss on Ecclesiastes draws heavily on Jerome’s commentary, with some additions from Alcuin and Gregory (Smith, 2009, pp. 48-9, and p. 55, although there has of yet been no in depth study of the Gloss on these two books).   

A notable feature of this manuscript is that almost all the marginal glosses begin with lemmata (Smith, 2009, suggests this is often not the case, pp. 56 and 109, but the topic needs revisiting, and more careful examination of whether this practice varied in manuscripts of the Gloss of different dates and origins). The chapters used here for the text of the Bible are also noteworthy. This manuscript predates the adoption of the biblical chapters we use today, which are seen for the first time in Bibles in the late twelfth century, although they are very rare at that time. They become more common, c. 1200-30, but are only widely used after c. 1230. In this manuscript the divisions for the modern chapters are added in a thirteenth-century hand, possibly from fairly early, and numbered in early Arabic numerals (cf. f. 5v, where Proverbs 4 is marked in a very early Arabic numeral alongside the incipit). The numbers of the modern chapters are also added in the upper margin in early Arabic numerals by this same hand.

Even more interesting, however, is the fact that when this manuscript was copied, the biblical text was divided according to a system of chapters used before the adoption of our modern chapters, and many of these chapters are numbered in small Roman numerals. Older systems of chapters generally divided the biblical books into many more chapters than the divisions we use today, but in some cases, these older divisions correspond with the modern chapters (e.g., f. 15v, at Proverbs, ch. 10, there is an early “10”, repeated in the upper margin on the recto as a running title, but the division is marked in the margin “xxv”, enclosed in a paragraph mark, by the original scribe). Although there has been recent interest in re-examining the chapters used in manuscripts of the Bible without the Gloss, and in particular, the origin of our modern chapters (Saenger, 2013, and earlier articles by Dr. Saenger), the chapters used to divide the biblical text in manuscripts of the Gloss have not been explored by modern scholars; it would be an interesting topic for further research.


Andrée, Alexander, ed. Gilbertus Universalis, Glossa ordinaria in Lamentationes Ieremie prophete. Prothemata et Liber 1: A Critical Edition with an Introduction and a Translation, Stockholm, Almquist and Wiksell, 2005.

Dove, Mary, ed. Glossa ordinaria, pars 22, In Canticum canticorum, CCCM 170, Turnhout, Belgium, Brepols, 1997.

De Hamel, Christopher. Glossed Books of the Bible and the Origins of the Paris Booktrade, Woodbridge, Suffolk and Dover, N.H., D.S. Brewer, 1984.

Froehlich, Karlfried and Margaret T. Gibson, eds. Biblia Latina cum Glossa Ordinaria : Facsimile Reprint of the Editio Princeps Adolph Rusch of Strassburg 1480/81, Turnhout, Brepols, 1992.

Light, Laura. The Bible in the Twelfth Century: an Exhibition of Manuscripts at the Houghton Library, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard College Library, 1988.

Saenger, Paul. “The Twelfth-Century Reception of Oriental Languages and the Graphic Mise en page of Latin Vulgate Bibles Copied in England”, in Eyal Poleg and L. Light, ed. Form and Function in the Late Medieval Bible, Leiden, Brill, 2013, pp. 31-66.

Smith, Lesley. The Glossa ordinaria: The Making of a Medieval Bible, Leiden and Boston, Brill, 2009.

Stegmüller, Fridericus. Repertorium biblicum medii aevi, Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 1950-61, and Supplement, with the assistance of N. Reinhardt, Madrid, 1976-80.

Stirnemann, Patricia. “Gilbert de la Porrée et les livres glosés à Laon, à Chartres et à Paris”, in Monde médiéval et société chartraine : actes du colloque international organisé par la ville et le diocèse de Chartres à l'occasion du 8e centenaire de la Cathédrale de Chartres, ed. Jean-Robert Armogathe, Paris, Picard, 1997, pp. 83-95.

Stirnemann, Patircia, “Où ont été fabriqués les livres de la glose ordinaire dans la première moitié du XIIe siècle?”, in Le XIIe siècle : mutations et renouveau en France dans la première moitié du XIIe siècle, ed. Françoise Gasparri, Paris, Le Léopard d'or, 1994, pp. 257-279. 

Watson, Andrew G. “A Varese Library-Stamp Identified?” in Andrew G. Watson. Medieval Manuscripts in Post-Medieval England, Aldershot, Hampshire, and Burlington, Vermont, Ashgate Publishing, 2004, no. XV, and “Additional Notes”, p. 14-17.

Zier, Daniel. “The Manuscript Tradition of the Glossa Ordinaria for Daniel and Hints at a Method for a Critical Edition”, Scriptorium 47 (1993) 3-25.

Zier, Daniel. “The Development of the Glossa Ordinaria to the Bible in the 13th Century: The Evidence of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris”, in La Bibbia del XIII secolo: storia del testo, storia dell esegesi, G. Cremascoli and F. Santi, eds., Florence: SISMEL - Edizioni del galluzzo, 2004, pp. 155-184.

Online resources

Glossae.net: Glosses and Commentaries to the Bible in the Middle Ages (includes discussions, bibliography, and extensive links to sources):

Martin Morard, “Bibliographie de la Glose de la Bible latine”

Online edition of the Strasbourg 1481 edition of the Glossa Ordinaria