Bible moralisée of Naples

Bible moralisée of Naples f. 13r (Gen. 8: 6-11)


f. 13r (Gen. 8: 6-11)

“Here Noah sends out a dove upon God's command to see if it finds dry land and it flies away and does not come back then then [sic] he sends another dove and it returns with muddy feet for it found no dry land and then he sends a crow that lands on a carcass and he sends another dove and it finds dry land and brings an olive branch”.
In other words, Noah sends out one dove, and then another that returns with muddy feet, then a crow that perches on a decaying carcass and finally a third dove that brings back an olive branch: not the same order as in the Vulgate. The canonical order is: first Noah sends out a crow that flies back and then a dove that also flies back to the Ark. He releases the dove again and it returns with an olive branch in its beak. Noah releases it for the third time and it does not come back.

These birds signify the disciples sent out to preach in the world by the good prelate, not depicted. The first dove that does not return is the good monk who dies in his cloister. His winged soul can be seen flying from the roof of the church up into heaven. The good monk who returns to his cloister is the dove that returns to the Ark with its feet covered in mud, for the mud signifies the world the monk does not find to be good. In the Bible of Naples, this monk who returns is welcomed at the door of his monastery by a layperson in pink garb standing in front of three friars. The crow on the decaying carcass, in this instance the upturned body of what seems to be a goat floating on the waters, is the evil monk on the decaying carcass of this world devouring bad pieces after flaunting the word of God. This bad monk is depicted on the left with a bag in his hand greedily swallowing a large piece of food in front of a woman of pleasure.
It was the three-volume Bibles that finally reinstated the canonical order of the Vulgate, the text of which replaced the extremely fanciful biblical paraphrases appearing in the single-volume Bibles. The four birds being sent out and their allegorical interpretation are arranged in two pairs of medallions: the crow and the first dove first followed by the second and third doves. The crow that flies back signifies a monk with a bag embracing a courtesan behind a heavily laden table; and the dove that returns, to a penitent layman being presented by Christ and welcomed by a priest at the door of a church. We can recognise him as the layperson misinterpreted and inserted into the moralisation medallion in the Bible of Naples. The dove flying back with an olive branch is a penitent sinner depicted in drawers being welcomed by Ecclesia whilst the one that never came back is a hermit living alone in a cave.

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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