The present manuscript contains the so-called Bible Historiale complétée consisting of the historical books of the French Bible du XIIIe siècle. It ranks among the latest examples of its kind and fits into a group of eight other copies that originated in the northern region of France, Hainault and Flanders, close to Air-sur-la-Lys, where the translator Guiart de Moulin had worked (1291-1297). His French Bible historiale was composed in the form of a history book and became by far the most popular French translation of the Bible, reading like a chronicle or a novel and therefore attractive for laypeople. The nine manuscripts just mentioned are quite similar in content and language to the now lost original, perhaps to break away from the Parisian tradition of the Bible Historiale.
The term ‘histoire’ in the title Bible Historiale, also means ‘image’ and thus hints to the fact that this text typically includes miniatures. Its large number of illuminations made copies of the Bible Historiale very attractive, but also very costly. Although all nine Bible Historiale manuscripts from the North of France show similarities in their illustration choices, but this volume is layed out spaciously with much blank parchment between chapters. Evidently, the unknown commissioner was interested in having a sumptuous codex, as is demonstrated by the fact that the miniatures, in the form of large, penwork drawings, extend over the whole width of the written space, rather than being kept to the usual, column-width, and that many of the initials are added in gold. The patron's specific interests can be judged from the allocation of the miniatures. The history of Samson received three miniatures, (ff. 137, 138, 138v), that of Jezebel (ff. 192, 201), Judith (ff. 253, 257v) and of Esther (ff. 263v, 266v) two miniatures each. The Apocalypse has as many as four miniatures (ff. 300, 311, 317, 321). In accordance with their unusual subjects, the compositions are inventive and unusual.
The imaginative artist has not yet been identified. His graphic style, enhanced with light transparent colours, recalls that of the Rambures Master from Amiens. This manuscript, with its contemporary binding, is a treasure whose secret is yet to be revealed.
See this fascinating manuscript in our 2021 publication, Collecting Culture.