Nothing else is quite like the Holkham Bible Picture Book. Produced in London during the early 14th century; it contains over 230 illustrations depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments. The manuscript takes its name from Holkham Hall in Norfolk, where it was part of the collection of the Earls of Leicester until 1952.
Fine and detailed images dominate the text. These images are accompanied by explanatory texts of varying length, mostly written in Anglo-Norman French, though Middle English is also present. Significantly, the images were completed first – the reverse of the conventional order of medieval book production. The whole Bible isn’t depicted; only three sections are included: Genesis to Noah (ff. 2–9); the Gospels, supplemented by apocryphal versions of the life of Christ (ff. 10–38); and Revelation (ff. 39–42v).
An unusual scene on the manuscript’s opening page suggests that it was commissioned by a Dominican friar and intended to be shown to an audience of important or influential people. A seated artist turns to look over his shoulder at a standing man dressed in the traditional white tunic and black cape and hood of the Dominicans (image no. 1). Speech scrolls alongside these figures reveal their dialogue in Anglo-Norman French. The friar, gesturing for emphasis, directs the artist to ‘do it well and thoroughly, for it will be shown to important people’ (Ore feres been e nettement kar mustre serra a riche gent). The artist responds: ‘Indeed, I certainly will and, if God lets me live, never will you see another such book’ (Si frai voyre e Deux me doynt vivere Nonkes ne veyses un autretel livere).
View images of the entire manuscripts via our Digitised Manuscripts website.
- Article by:
- Sarah Salih
- Faith and religion
Sarah Salih explores how medieval Europeans memorialised the lives of real and fictional Christian saints, transforming them into the superheroes and celebrities of the Middle Ages.
- Article by:
- Sandra M. Gilbert
- Gender and sexuality, Politics and religion
Eve in Paradise Lost is vain vulnerable and evidently intellectually inferior to Adam. However, Sandra M Gilbert argues that, though Milton portrays her as a weak character, he also puts her on a par with Satan in her refusal to accept hierarchy and because of her ability to move the plot of Paradise Lost forward.
- Article by:
- Christianity, Sacred texts
Dr Scot McKendrick looks at manuscripts of the Bible prior to the invention of printing, exploring their contents and uses and answering the question of why there are so few manuscripts of the whole Bible.
Related collection items
Related teachers' notes
Through exploring characterisation and setting in Paradise Lost, students will reflect on how transgressive actions and their consequences are presented, with particular reference to Books I, II, IX and X.
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