The forty-seven leaves of the so-called Illustrated Bible of The Hague contain forty-five attractively colored full-page miniatures, many subdivided into four separate scenes. The miniatures, embellished with gold, depict episodes from both the Christian Bible and saints' lives. Created around 1190-1200 perhaps at and certainly for the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Bertin in Saint-Omer, the picture cycle may have been intended as a prefatory cycle to a psalter, a book of private devotion with the 150 biblical psalms as its core text.
The miniatures, which illustrate more than 150 scenes, were painted on one side only of the leaves. They are accompanied by captions identifying the episodes or persons depicted. Various French and Latin texts were added in the thirteenth century on the many originally blank pages among the leaves.
Unusual Inclusions and Alterations
The first image is a map of Jerusalem (fol. 1r) that has been moved from an earlier position at the end of the collection. The extensive series of scenes from the Bible includes episodes described in the Old Testament (fols. 2-9 and 43); events from the life of Christ (fols. 10-24); and portraits, miracles, and scenes from the lives of saints (fols. 25-42). The Last Judgment concludes the cycle (fols. 44-45). The association with Saint-Bertin is confirmed by the representation of a monk kneeling before the abbey's patron saint (fol. 33v).
The paintings appear to be the work of one artist who worked in a style—sometimes called the Channel Style—that enjoyed a brief flowering at the end of the twelfth and beginning of the thirteenth centuries on both sides of the English Channel. Its characteristics are strong colors, bold outlines, solid figures, dramatic gesturing, and simple drapery. Many of the scenes are set against grounds of gold leaf, often tooled.
The extensive cycle of miniatures shares some features with English manuscripts, including the psalter known as the Munich Golden Psalter. The Huntingfield Psalter (New York, The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.43), made in England in the early thirteenth century, like the manuscript in The Hague, includes a hagiographical cycle, and its miniatures are customarily subdivided into four scenes.
Captions in Black and Red, Prose and Verse
The computistical table (fol. 43v) and the picture captions comprise the only writing on the leaves that is contemporary with the paintings. These are written in Gothic Textualis, as are the many added texts. Some of the captions—or tituli—are Latin rhyming couplets or are hexameters with an internal rhyme; these poetic texts are all written in red.
A Casual Collection
The texts inscribed onto the leaves' blank pages during the thirteenth century are in verse and prose. They include Latin prayers; the Office of the Trinity; Autorités (a moralizing treatise in French); and a French satire attributed to Huon de Saint-Quentin entitled Complainte de Jérusalem.
A Royal Purchase
William I (1772-1843) King of the Netherlands, purchased the manuscript in 1819 from the collection of Joseph Désiré Lupus (d. 1822) of Brussels. Between 1819 and 1822, the manuscript was housed at the Musée Lupus in the Palace of Charles de Lorraine in Brussels. In 1823 it was transferred to the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. The leaves are bound in green velvet, a binding that dates to the seventeenth or eighteenth century.