The Bible of St Louis

The Bible of St Louis vol.3, f. 8r

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vol.3, f. 8r

Volume III, folio 8r

This page depicts four figures, two larger ones in the top scene and two smaller ones in the bottom scene.

The main section is occupied by two members of French royalty. The female figure, whilst having no attributes to identify her definitely, has been interpreted as Blanche of Castile, the mother of Louis IX. Seated on her throne and garbed in her regal cloak and white veil, she addresses the young monarch in an active, conversational pose. The king listens respectfully, holding the gold bull hanging upon his chest in his fingers. The pose of each figure suggests that the queen is dedicating the completed Bible to the young king. If this is the case, then it was the queen who commissioned and paid for the work. Her son, for whom it was made, receives it.

The bottom section features persons literally of lower rank. The subordinate position of these two people is obvious because their representations, smaller in size, are situated lower down, meaning that their responsibility in the work was of a subordinate nature. The first figure is a cleric sitting on his bench giving orders to a copyist and supervising his work. Since this cleric is dressed as a religious, we can immediately rule out that he was of episcopal rank as has been suggested elsewhere.

This figure’s appearance suggests a cleric belonging to a religious order deliberately depicted without any characteristic traits. I am of the opinion that this ambiguity is due to the fact that copyists were directed by members of more than one religious order.

If this interpretation of the end miniature is accepted, then the authorship question of this Bible is resolved, at least partially. The large illuminated page suggests that the four figures depicted on it shared the authorship and that each one took a proportional part in certain aspects. In other words, the Bible was the fruit of joint authorship. The queen was responsible for the initiative of the project, its sponsorship, financing and the right to establish the basic guidelines governing the work. In certain respects the king for whom the book was commissioned was also involved in the authorship. The book was meant for him and was designed bearing him, his Christian education and political benefit as king in mind.

Also included in the author category are the clerics carrying out the instructions received, applying them and directing the craftsmen working on the book. As mentioned earlier, they were probably a group from different religious orders perhaps consisting mainly of members of the Franciscan, Dominican and the two mendicant orders. They were responsible for designing the book in general with its characteristic features according to the instructions they received.

The copyist portrayed in the final miniature also represents the group of craftsmen skilled in bookish arts who played an active part in it. Just leafing through any volume of this Bible is enough to realise that many different hands were involved in the task of copying. Likewise, more than one illuminator was involved in the decoration. They played a leading role in the creation of a work of incomparable beauty deservingly admired and appreciated by the most educated monarchs of its epoch.

 


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