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A Decorated Initial, in Job and the Sapiential Books, With Explanatory Notes

A Decorated Initial, in Job and the Sapiential Books, With Explanatory Notes

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1250

Shelfmark: Royal MS 3 C.vi

Item number: f.119r

Length: 34.7

Width: 24.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

Medieval Christian theologians had to understand Old Testament books such as Job in terms of Christianity. This need gave rise to a tradition of explanatory notes called the 'glossa ordinaria'. In some Bibles especially for theological study the glossa ordinaria were written around the biblical text in a frame-like arrangement. Additional notes on particular words would be written between the lines. These notes remained standardised through centuries of use. This copy of Job and the sapiential books (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus) with the glossa ordinaria belonged to the Franciscan convent at Canterbury.

The typical layout of a page with the glossa ordinaria can be seen with the first page of the Book of Proverbs. At the top of the page, St Jerome's prologue to his translation of Proverbs is written in a single broad column. Below it in the centre of the page, the biblical text is written in large writing with the gloss in smaller letters in the margin and yet smaller ones between the lines. Smaller still is the handwriting in which glosses on the gloss have been added. The first letter of the biblical text is impressively large, glowing with gold and enlivened with imaginary beasts.

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