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Jacob and Esau with Commentaries, in a Glossed Genesis

Jacob and Esau with Commentaries, in a Glossed Genesis

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1175

Shelfmark: Additional MS 63077

Item number: f.72r

Length: 29.4

Width: 18.2

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

In the Middle Ages the Bible was the subject of most learning and writing because it was the basis of Christian theology. It provided the foundation of study of history, science, and language as well. The Book of Genesis was especially important because it told of the beginnings and the human fall from grace. By the 12th century, biblical commentary had developed into a complex body of knowledge which still had to be redigested in order to deal with changes and new issues. Theologians coped with the difficulties by dividing knowledge into categories and organising it as units. Their books reflected these changes in their graphic layout. This copy of Genesis has an extensive gloss or commentary, but instead of writing the gloss between the lines or in margins as had been done earlier, the main text is written in a narrow column in the centre of the page with the commentary on either side and above. The main text is written in a larger script, the gloss smaller. The margins were free to note things like sources. The plainness of this page reflects the ideals of the Cistercians, the order of monks who founded and built the great monastery of Rievaulx where this book was made. They believed that monks should find God in contemplation and physical hardship performed in isolation from lay society. While they had nothing against beauty--their architecture and manuscripts have an austere aesthetic--they objected to the opulence of many monasteries as distraction. The page presents the text of Genesis 33-34, the meeting of Jacob and Esau. The gloss is written in a slightly different script, and sources in Bede (top) and Jerome (left margin) are noted in the margins. The red chapter number xxxiiii was added centuries after the manuscript was made.

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