The Leo Bible is one of the most exquisite manuscripts from the Byzantine empire, possibly Constantinople, and one of the earliest surviving byzantine bibles. The codex, also known as Bibel des Patricius Leo, was written and illuminated around the mid 10th century. With its 18 superbly illustrated full-page miniatures the manuscript is justly considered an outstanding example of Byzantine illumination.
Although only one volume has survived, the contents of the manuscript seem to suggest that the codex originally included the Hebrew bible and the New Testament.
The Leo Bible and the Macedonian Renaissance
The iconographic apparatus, which comprises 18 full-page miniatures, echoes the artistic style of Macedonian Renaissance under which other stylistically similar manuscripts, such as the Joshua Roll, are grouped.
From an iconographic standpoint the manuscript features figures and shapes that betray Macedonian Renaissance’s interest in the classic tradition. There is a major focus on the figure of Moses as well as a surprising attention to the figures of Judith and Holofernes.
Identity of the Leo and the Commissioners
The Leo Bible features two dedication images which shed some light on the commissioner’s identity. One image depicting a beardless eunuch-like figure offering the book to the Virgin Mary, is accompanied by an inscription which identifies him as a man called Leo, patritian and imperial treasurer.
The other image depicts two figures kneeling at St. Nicholas’ feet, with the two other characters identified as Leo’s brother Costantine – founder of the monastery to which the manuscript was donated – and Makar, the abbot of the monastery.
A few suggestions have been proposed as to who exactly is the figure of Leo and one of the most accepted is that Leo is the same figure that appears as the addressee of a group of Byzantine letters dating 925 to 944.
The Leo Bible features the Greek minuscule script which replaced the uncial script, and it is characterized by more rounded shapes and an increase in the use of ligatures.
Unfortunately, the Leo Bible, like many medieval manuscripts, lost its original binding.