This Bible was made for the French King Louis IX around 1250 and retells the Old Testament story of King David, almost exclusively in pictures. Of particular importance to Louis was apparently the depiction of war scenes, in order to emphasize his thoughts and ideas on the Crusades.
A Magnificent Picture Book
One of the greatest art treasures of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York is an illuminated manuscript which retells the story of the Old Testament in 283 monumental illustrations, from the Creation of the world to King David.
The Crusader's Bible fascinates through its rich and refined gold embellishment which comes to enhance the luminosity of the colours. This manuscript served the French king Louis IX, the Saint, as a historiated Bible, a large format chronicle of biblical events.
The story is depicted in great detail and without any text, recalls the Creation of the world, the Righteous Wars and the deeds of the most important characters of the Old Testament.
A crusader from heart and bone, Louis attributed great importance to the war scenes, in order to emphasise his crusading ideal and to provide not only additional incentives but also guidelines with which to conquer the Holy Land.
Commissioned by Louis IX of France
Despite recent research, only very little is known about the King's quite exceptional library. Of all the books commissioned and owned by King Louis, the Crusader's Bible is without doubt the most extraordinary.
It explains with artistic perfection the idea and the concept of the crusade which marked King Louis' reign and politics. Typical biblical war scenes showing the conquest of the Holy Land depict costumes, armour and weapons of the 13th century in the most minor detail and the beholder has the impression to see the most Christian King of all in action, as a victorious warrior.
A Colourful Past
The historiated Bible of Louis the Saint was made around 1250 in a Parisian workshop. No text should disturb the beholder whose main interest lay in the illustrations. It was only in 1300 that Latin texts were added in the margins, to provide a brief resume of the action depicted in the miniatures.
This happened probably in Naples, on the initiative of Charles d'Anjou, a relative of Louis. After that the codex disappears in the darkness of time, only to reappear 300 years later in the library of the Cardinal Bernhard Maciejowski, bishop of Cracow.
In 1604 Maciejowski entrusted the luxurious work to a Papal delegation visiting the Persian Shah Abbas, as a gift and incentive to side with the Christian world against the victorious Turks.
The Shah obviously showed great interest in the miniatures as he had captions added in the Persian language. In addition, three leaves were removed from the manuscript upon his wish and luckily survived all the troubles of time; today they are kept in Paris and Malibu respectively.
The illustrations on these leaves show Absalom's rebellion against his father; obviously the Shah considered such literature as inapt for his sons. It is reported that he had them later blinded and killed, for fear that they would be too popular among his people.
Nothing is known about the further destiny of the manuscript. It must have been a hand of the 17th century who translated the Persian text into Hebrew.
Some more details about the owners of the manuscript appear in the 19th century: Sir Thomas Philipps bought it from a Greek named Jonas Athanasiou whose heirs finally sold it to John Pierpont Morgan. The artistic origin of the Crusader's Bible is just as exciting as its journey around the world.
A Most Extraordinary Work of Art Made by Extraordinary Artists
Even the earliest descriptions of the manuscript mention with good reason that the 283 illustrations seem as monumental as wall paintings. Of all works created in Parisian workshops around 1250 having specialised in miniature painting, this is the unique example of its kind.
This suggests that the artists who decorated the book are not to be found among the famous illuminators of the time but rather among those great masters who executed the magnificent wall and glass paintings of the Ste. Chapelle in Paris, consecrated in 1248.
All in all, six painters participated in the illumination of the Crusader's Bible. Their miniatures are not only different in duct and style but also in terms of colouring.
A very clear difference is discernible in the rich use of gold: the glittering shimmer of gold leaf alternates with soft tones of burnished gold of different intensity and structure, applied with a brush. This confers to each individual picture and to each single page of this magnificent manuscript its particular and very special character.
We have 3 facsimiles of the manuscript "Morgan Crusader’s Bible":
- Biblia de los Cruzados (Parchment Facsimile) facsimile edition published by Scriptorium, 2013
- Bibbia dei Crociati facsimile edition published by Salerno Editrice
- Kreuzritterbibel facsimile edition published by Faksimile Verlag, 1998