The Bible Moralisée, or moralized Bible, kept in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Austria with the shelfmark codex Vindobonensis 2554, is a 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 was made in the thirteenth century. The codex is among the earliest surviving examples of the so called Bible moralisées appearing around this time in France. It contains an exuberant decoration consisting of 136 illuminated pages.
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 Bible Moralisée because of the lavish illuminations that decorate the codex.
The comparisons of diverse passages of the Bible would have encouraged the viewer to understand the moral interpretation of 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 as the Architect of the World
The frontispiece of the manuscript Vienna 2554 is often reproduced. It represents the iconography of God creator of the world. 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 appears in other 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.