French Picture Bible

One of the greatest graphic-arts innovations of medieval Europe is the Bible Moralisée, a thirteenth-century reconception of the Christian Bible as thousands of short "comic strips" that each compare one topic from the Old and the New Testament with an explanation in ordinary French.

The Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome possesses just one Bible Moralisée (BM), which was made in Paris in about 1410 and is a later evolution of this work with just 76 images (vastly fewer than the 5,112 of the greatest of them all, BNF fr. 167). The appearance online of the Vatican BM, Reg.lat.25, on October 2, 2015 is major news. It has many fine illuminations including this scene of  David in a running stream listening to the word of God:

A BM is not to be confused with a Biblia Pauperum (which I discussed a couple of years ago on this blog), nor is it the same as an Angevin Legendary (BAV's released online this year), although both those latter types are also bibles in pictures. The great expert on BMs, John Lowden, published an article in 2005 that explores the place of Reg.lat.25 in the BM tradition: "The Bible Moralisée in the Fifteenth Century and the Challenge of the Bible Historiale," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 68 (2005) pp. 73-136 (click the link of go to Jstor to read it).

There were 147 new releases on October 2. Here is the full list:
Digita Vaticana had an index page as of October 4 that announced a total of 2,883 manuscripts online, but it had unaccountably delisted eight manuscripts that are still in fact accessible, so the true total is 2,891. I don't know if there are more phantoms now hiding in there. Among the missing items are:
As always, if you can add or correct details, use the comments box below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for more news on digitizations.


Wonders in China

Some time between 1620 and 1640, a Chinese book publisher issued an extraordinary illustrated compendium about the exotic creatures and travel opportunities of the far western world. The project was overseen by Giulio Aleni, the Italian leader of the Jesuit community in China. The wood-block printing was entitled K`un-yü t`u-shuo (An Illustrated Explanation of Geography).

Its especial charm resides in the unknown artist's conceptions of sea monsters and the Wonders of the Ancient World. To the fanciful western pictures of the wonders which he would have used as his model, he added his own perspective. Neither he nor we know what most of these monuments really looked like, so it is interesting to see how an Asian sensibility envisaged these fabled places.

Digita Vaticana has just digitized the book, which it stocks as Borg. cin. 350, fasc. 30. I have no idea how rare this printing was. The wood-block engraving is not of a very high quality, suggesting the book was priced for the mass market in China. Here are the seven wonders, to which an eighth was of course added in the time-honoured fashion at the discretion of the compiler.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are depicted as great blocks of inclined stone leaning alarmingly off a pine-clad mountainside over an architectural garden with a bridge as a walkway. Full page.

The Colossus of Rhodes, with a contemporary European merchant ship sailing between its knees, guards the entrance to its Mediterranean harbour and is shown with boylike, notably Asian facial features. Full page.

The Great Pyramid of Giza, which was the only one of the wonders to still exist in 1620, is greatly heightened and shown amid mountains. Full page.

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus is visualized as a ziggurat. Full page.

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus is depicted as a long hall in a style that is more Renaissance than classical. Full page.

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia is a round-shouldered senior clutching some rather limp looking thunderbolts. The artist may have puzzled over what on earth these were meant to be. With his left hand, Zeus pats his eagle. Full page.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria has a very smoky fire going on top. Full page.

The eighth wonder is the Roman Colosseum, for which the artist clearly had a fairly accurate model to draw from. Full page.

There are more details about this book in the catalog to the Rome Reborn exhibition held 20 years ago in the United States.

This is one of 19 items brought online on September 21, bringing the published Digita Vaticana tally to 2,744. Here is the full list:
There is also a remarkable Chinese line drawing of Matteo Ricci here in another book (fasc. 3) bound into Borg.cin.350, Ta-hsi Hsi-t'ai Li hsien-sheng hsing-chi. This is a 1616 biography of Ricci (1552 – 1610), the greatest of all the Jesuit scholars studying Chinese culture, by Aleni, a successor. The Rome Reborn exhibition catalog describes the drawing as follows:
This rare and beautifully executed portrait of Matteo Ricci reveals how European and Chinese pictorial methods contrast. Chinese portraits developed out of centuries of brushed calligraphy and the subdued treatment of human figures, on one hand, and Buddhist and Taoist depictions of humans and divinities on the other.
I wonder do wonder if the line drawing it is not drawn directly from the 1610 painting of Ricci by Yu Wen-hui (later Emmanuel Pereira) that has been in Rome since 1616.

Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for more news. Write comments in the box below if you can add details, or correct my notes. Thanks to @TuomasLevanen for filling in Coptic collection details!


Luke in Arabic

Among the old treasures just digitized is a 96-folio Gospel of Luke in Arabic translation. This little codex in a more-or-less square format can be precisely dated to the year 993. Here is a detail of Luke 20 from folio 79r:

At the Rome Reborn exhibition 20 years ago, the display note said, "This 10th-century Egyptian codex was donated to Pope Eugene IV by the Egyptian delegates at the Council of Florence. Translated from a Coptic original, it is one of the earliest Arabic versions of any part of the New Testament, none of which can be dated before the late eighth or ninth centuries."

Here is the full list of 54 items brought online on September 17, 2015. The stated total on the index page is now 2,725.
Here's a fine hunt detail from Vat.lat.151, to be found just over the portrait above of Peter Lombard:

Here's the foundation of Rome noted for Olympiad 6, as set out in the canons in Vat.lat. 245 (60r):

Follow me on Twitter for more news (@JBPiggin). If you can add details about any of these, please use the comments box below.


Glory of Asia

Digitizations have clearly slowed in the Roman summer, but Digita Vaticana is still making occasional releases.  The Vatican Euripides showed up September 1, and 37 more manuscripts came online September 15.

The Euripides, Vat.gr.909,  is from just after 1250 and not the the oldest by any means, but is one of the sources of nine plays by the great Greek dramatist with scholia. There is a page-by-page listing of the contents at Pinakes. For a sound text of the plays along with English translations, consult Perseus. The scholia (that is to say the glosses and stage directions and other notes) are recorded by Donald Mastronarde on his remarkable electronic scholia site.

Here is the first line of Andromache, "Glory of Asia, city of Thebe!"

As for the rest, there are several maps. The portolan charts are scanned at too low a resolution to be of any use for scholarship, since the place-names remain illegible. The map of the lagoons at Comacchio, Barb.lat.4242.pt.A, is of some interest, and I always like those figurative maps of the Mediterranean which show the River Jordan in green and the Red Sea in red. I picked out one from Cappon.56 a few weeks ago where it illustrates a poem by the humanist Lorenzo Bonincontri (1486-1488). This new example is from Chig.M.VII.146
Here is the full list. The digitizations bring the total posted so far to 2,671.
Here is an ostrich running in Borg.Carte.naut.VII:

As always, if you can provide more details on these, use the comments box below.


Armenian Treasures

We owe much to Armenian monks for the preservation of the early Christian past. Many ancient works that are now lost in their original Greek, such as key books by the great Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, survive only in Armenian translation.

That's why we should be so pleased that a new crop of digitizations and uploadings at Digita Vaticana includes Vat.arm.3, a finely illuminated 13th-century codex that is believed to have been the first Armenian manuscript to enter the Vatican book collections in the 15th century. This was exhibited in the Rome Reborn exhibition 20 years ago in Washington and St Louis and the catalog stated that it was thought to have been donated to the papacy by the Armenian delegates at the Council of Florence.

Its texts are mainly liturgical but there are also texts on chronology, geography, astronomy, mensuration, philosophy and history. I'm not aware if any of these are unique, but it's great to just browse this thick codex and admire the care with which it was made. From the illuminations, here is a fine red-beaked bird from folio 213r:
There's also a fine bird lady on folio 317r as part of what seems to be a matrix of consanguines or arbor consanguinatis
The digitizations are evidently advancing despite the summer heat in Rome. The latest 51 bring the tally of items on the index page to 2,633. Here is my list:
As ever, tell me via the comments box below if you know more about any of these codices.

Here is a drawing of devils flying around evil idolatrous Rome from Borgh.366, folio 1r
Angles of view in treatise on perspective drawing, Cappon 132, folio 14v:
By the way, a knowledge of medieval Armenian is something that certain scholars brag about, much as a scratch golfer would brag of his zero handicap. A few weeks back, a reviewer for the Bryn Mawr Classical Review was publicly berating any of his inferiors having the temerity to write about Philo without learning Armenian first: The language barrier is not unsurmountable and does not justify studying this part of Philo from the translations of the (Armenian) translation only. That sounds a bit like those ads that claim that anyone can learn to play golf like Tiger Woods if they buy this or that set of clubs. Sigh. If only life were that easy.