The Weimar Manuscript was created in the middle of the fourteenth century, presumably in Erfurt, Germany. It contains one of the earliest surviving types of a popular abridged bible later called Biblia Pauperum or “pauper’s bibles”. This is paired with another popular text, an illustrated apocalypse. The large parchment pages make for expansive pictorial canvases filled with fifty-eight colorful illuminations. The Biblia Pauperum’s pictures are arranged in groups of roundels while the Apocalypse features glorious full-page illustrations with large figures culminating in a spectacularly macabre Crucifixion.
The text is secondary to the images in the form of captions surrounding and placed next to the relevant scene. Written in a neat Gothic textura with initials emphasized in red ink, the main language is Latin, however in the Biblia Pauperum, the Latin descriptions are accompanied by translations in Middle High German. The Weimar manuscript is a spectacular work of the early German Gothic pairing two popular texts in a monumental format.
Two Illustrated Texts in One Large Format
The Weimar manuscript measures 48 cm by 33 cm putting it among the larger surviving manuscripts from the Middle Ages. The first ten folios contain 35 pictorial groups, typical for Biblia Pauperum, arranged in five roundels—four surrounding a central motif—two to a page. Each roundel’s frame contains a caption in Latin.
Additional captions in German run across the top and bottom of each group with two sets of exegetical texts, the above in Latin and the below in German, to each side. Initials are rubricated throughout. The remaining folios are a pictorial Apocalypse with full-page figural illustrations of apocalyptic characters captioned in Latin.
Biblia Pauperum — Popular Pictorial Books
Contrary to what the name suggests, Biblia Pauperum were not bibles for the poor. Early manuscript copies like this one, with their large format, rich colors, gilding, and heraldry, were works only the very wealthy could afford to commission.
Biblia Pauperum are a development from the earlier Bible Moralisée, or moralizing bibles, and in a similar fashion make exegetical comparisons between Old and New Testament passages, especially for the purposes of moralizing or prefiguration.
The text itself is reduced to captions surrounding and verbal ribbons within the picture, often mostly or entirely in the local vernacular. In this way, they were very much like medieval graphic novels and were meant to entertain and educate in a similar manner. The advent of block printing allowed for this type of book to increase in popularity and many early printed versions exist.
Sister of a Now-Fragmentary Manuscript
Little is known about the provenance of the Weimar manuscript. Erfurt, an important city of trade and learning in the fourteenth century, is a likely candidate. However, it appears to have a sister manuscript that is now unfortunately fragmentary. Seven folios of a similarly large size survive—six in Nuremberg and one in the Getty Museum (Ms. 108). This suggests the elite of fourteenth-century central Germany reacted positively to and further developed the new types of literature being produced in the Gothic style.
It remained in the Benedictine monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul in Erfurt until the foundation was dissolved on 23 March 1803. It was acquired by the Ducal library in Weimar at this time and was rebound in 1959 by Hans Heiland.
We have 2 facsimiles of the manuscript "Biblia Pauperum: Apocalypsis: The Weimar Manuscript":
- Biblia pauperum, Apocalypsis: die Weimarer Handschrift facsimile edition published by Insel Verlag, 1977
- Biblia pauperum, Apocalypsis: die Weimarer Handschrift facsimile edition published by Edition Leipzig, 2007