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An introduction to Bible manuscripts

Overview Before 800 800-1000 1000-1200 1200-1400

5: 1400 - 1600

Translations of the entire Bible into vernacular languages were rare in the early Middle Ages. But by the end of the thirteenth century, a paraphrase of the Bible in French was proving popular, consisting of a translation with interpolated passages from the work of the twelfth-century scholar Peter Comestor. Illustrated copies of several versions of this Bible history were produced, and sometimes lavishly illustrated, as demonstrated by the early fifteenth-century copy at the beginning of this section. A fifteenth-century history Bible in Dutch is another example of a luxury copy of a vernacular biblical paraphrase.

In addition, more straight-forward translations were being completed at this time. For example, a rare copy of the Old Testament in Catalan is illustrated below, which includes traditional depictions of Creation at the beginning of Genesis. In England, the earlier version of the Wycliffite translation was produced by followers of the Oxford teacher John Wycliffe (d. 1384), as a word-for-word rendering of the Vulgate. A decorated copy of the later Wycliffite version, in which the language was revised to follow the structure of Middle English, is included in this section. Copies of this text continued to be produced, even after 1407-9, when a special license from the local bishop was required in order to possess one.

The production of lavishly illustrated copies of the Bible did not end with the advent of printing. Wealthy patrons continued to commission hand-made copies of the text. For example, in Rome Cardinal Gonzaga ordered a luxury copy of the Four Gospels in Greek, which was copied from a Byzantine example, adapted to Western artistic tastes. Similarly, King Henry VIII ordered a deluxe copy of the Psalms, complete with portraits of himself in the guise of King David. That Henry used this copy in his private devotions or reflections is confirmed by numerous marginal comments in his own hand.

(Click on an image for an enlarged view and detailed description.)


Royal 19 D III, f. 289
Solomon, Rehoboam, and courtiers, Proverbs, in French, Bible historiale (early version), Paris, 1411, 445 x 340 mm.
Royal 19 D III, f. 289


Royal 1 E IX, f. 136v (detail)
Job feasting; on a dunghill, Job, in Latin, The Great Bible, London ?, 1st quarter of 15th century, 625 x 430 mm.
Royal 1 E IX, f. 136v (detail)


Arundel 104, Vol. II, f. 251 (detail)
Tetramorph, Matthew, in English, Wycliffite Bible, North Midlands, England, 1st quarter of 15th century, 405 x 255 mm.
Arundel 104, Vol. II, f. 251 (detail)


Add. 15410, f. 177v (detail)
Elkanah and his wives, 1 Samuel (I Kings), in Dutch, Flemish Bible History, Utrecht, northern Netherlands 2nd quarter of 15th century, 395 x 275 mm.
Add. 15410, f. 177v (detail)


Egerton 1526, f. 3
Creation, Genesis, in Catalan, Catalan Old Testament, Catalonia, 1465, 410 x 280 mm.
Egerton 1526, f. 3


Egerton 1896, f. 216v
Jonah, Jonah, in German, High German Old Testament, Regensburg, Germany, 1465, 380 x 280 mm.
Egerton 1896, f. 216v


Harley 5790, f. 233
Christ blessing flanked by angels, John, in Greek, The Greek Gospels of Cardinal Gonzaga, Rome, 1478, 310 x 215 mm.
Harley 5790, f. 233


Royal 2 A XVI, f. 3
Psalm 1, in Latin, The Psalter of Henry VIII, London ?, between 1530 and 1547, 205 x 140 mm.
Royal 2 A XVI, f. 3


Overview Before 800 800-1000 1000-1200 1200-1400

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