Over one thousand illuminated medallions evocative of stained glass, golden decorations spanning 130 folios, and a dazzling image of God designing the universe with a compass. Imago publishing house reproduced all this and much more in its 2020 facsimile edition of the Bible Moralisée.
The Bible Moralisée, or Moralized Bible, kept in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Austria with the shelfmark Codex Vindobonensis 2554, is a world-famous manuscript, known especially because of the opening full-page illumination depicting God the geometer.
Bible Moralisée: Teaching the Bible with Miniatures
The lavish manuscript, with its exuberant decoration of 136 illuminated pages, was made in France in the thirteenth century. The codex is among the earliest surviving examples of the so-called Bibles Moralisées appearing around this time in France.
As it is usual in the genre of the moralized Bibles, the pictures juxtapose passages of the Old and New Testaments. This magnificent exemplar stands out in the production of the Bibles Moralisées because of the lavish illuminations that decorate the codex.
The comparison of various passages from the Bible was meant to encourage the viewer to understand the moral interpretation of the Scriptures. Short texts in French accompany the miniatures to clarify the meanings of the pictures and relate them to the biblical passages.
Fashioned in rows of medallions set on colored and gold grounds, the miniatures are bright and luminous. The vivid figures appear in motion and interact with the frames, stepping outside them, for instance. The movement of the figures gives the narrative a dramatic effect.
God the Creator, Architect of the World
The frontispiece of the manuscript Vienna 2554, which portrays God as the creator of the world, is often reproduced. It is an iconography that understands the creation as an act in which God bent on the cosmos while holding a huge pair of compasses to measure the created world.
The miniature unifies several passages of Genesis, by merging the creation of the heavens, the earth, the sun, and the moon in one picture. God’s left hand touches the border of the world and seems to put the cosmos in motion.
While the image has no iconographic precedent, it does appear in other examples of Bible Moralisée, for example in the manuscript in Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod. 1179. As scholars have suggested, the representation of the Creator as architect was an important theme from Plato onward—yet the rarity of this iconography attracts much scholarly attention.
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