Bible moralisée of Naples

Bible moralisée of Naples f. 30v (Gen. 41: 41-44 and 41: 47-54)

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f. 30v (Gen. 41: 41-44 and 41: 47-54)

“Here Pharaoh has Joseph dressed in rich robes and mounted on a gold chariot and worshipped by his people and he entrusts the care of his land to him. Here comes Joseph and has his master’s large barns filled with corn for seven years. The other seven years show there is no corn and this saddens him.”

The image is more detailed than the text. Pharaoh appoints Joseph viceroy of Egypt. He gives him a signet ring, provides him with a splendid gown and orders the people to worship him after mounting him in a ceremonial chariot, depicted here as a two-wheeled, golden chariot drawn by two grey horses. According to Cassiodorus, Joseph was the first praetorium prefect and his main attribute was a carpentum, a four-wheeled coach drawn first by four horses and subsequently by oxen, the origin of the legend of the idle kings. The importance of this ceremonial chariot has always been emphasised in the iconography of late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, even if these misunderstood chariots often looked like old wagons. Joseph then has the barns filled with sheaves of corn before finally pointing at the thin ears from the seven bad years. In the two Bibles of Vienna, Joseph on his chariot signifies Christ of the Ascension, whilst Joseph storing up corn signifies Christ shown as a bust appearing to his disciples at Pentecost. The Bible of Naples maintains the Pentecost layout but associates it with Joseph storing up splendid sheaves of corn. The Ascension is discarded and replaced by a curious bust of God holding a splendid, green coat out to Christ being worshipped by two believers on their knees. The Naples gloss is, however, similar to the one in the French Bible of Vienna. The phrase “Jesus garbed by the Father in the fine flesh of the Virgin” is not reflected in any image in either of these two manuscripts. According to the Bible of Naples, the meagre ears Joseph is pointing at signify the wicked people that Christ points out; he desolates them and they die of hunger. These wicked people – Jews in the Latin Bible of Vienna – are not accompanied behind Christ by the Egyptians who have become the people of God. The gift of the chariot and the corn stored in the years of plenty in the three-volume Bibles reflect the Ascension and Pentecost in the Bibles of Vienna. The meagre ears Joseph shows Pharaoh and his people are once again Jews and usurers whom Christ, sitting on a cloud showing his bare side, dispatches into the jaws of hell (T I, f. 22r). It is clear that the creator of this folio in the lost model of the Bible of Naples was not copying the French Bible of Vienna, any more than any other. The scene it depicts, which is as vague as the ones on the previous two folios, is a combination of elements taken from a common preparatory dossier, a bundle of figura and images in the form of sketches, a collection of texts, all in separate quires or even, like the fragments Blaise Pascal used for his Pensées, on pieces of parchment tied together with string.

Yves Christe
University of Geneva
Marianne Besseyre
Illuminated Manuscripts Research Center, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Fragment of the Bible moralisée of Naples commentary volume


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