This Bible is indeed a rare treat for collectors and researchers: not only is it complete and stunningly preserved, thrillingly, we know about its commissioner, its destination, and the year it was completed. This sparkling find will add greatly to our knowledge of the art of 13th-century Tuscany.
Each book in this Bible is introduced by an ornate – either decorative or figurative – initial, of which the entire number comprises 147 letters in gold and colours. The hierarchy of text decoration shows smaller, merely ornamental initials for prologues and arguments, while chief incipits are headed by more sumptuous historiated initials in varying sizes. The principal letters – clearly – introduce the main divisions of the Old and the New Testaments. The artist responsible for the elaborate system of initials used a palette dominated by blue and pale rose, combined with ochre, grey, and white.
A distinctive feature of this artist's extraordinary style is the rich, sparkling repertoire of ornaments, fancy creatures, plants, tendrils, leaves, buds, and especially the outstanding, longbearded, frowning, and grimacing heads that mark the ends of vines, shoots, and volutes in never-ending variation.
The illuminator presumably first laid out his motifs in a uniform base tone, which he later topped with layers of more vivid colours, which he (or she) eventually highlighted with white, pink or grey brushstrokes. In a final step, dark contours outlined and intensified the painting. Interestingly, the immediate juxtaposition of dark and light lines creates a distinctive effect that makes figures appear carved or chiselled. This idiosyncratic manner recalls archaic styles, like Byzantine icons or Romanesque sculpture, where illusionistic depth does not necessarily suggest realistic volume and body, but evokes poignancy and fervour.
The single full-page miniature with two registers, showing the Annunciation and the Visitation, was likely added to the manuscript later. This miniature is just as remarkable as it is enigmatic. It was painted on a blank verso between the Old and New Testaments and clearly shows a different hand than the initials. Its style is as archaic as that of the initials but less carved and Byzantine. It recalls the illustration cycles prefixing Romanesque Psalters.
The text form of this Bible follows that of the Parisian Vulgate, which was standardized around 1220. In the manuscript at hand, the Book of Job precedes the Psalms. Baruch and the Lamentations are inverted and the books of the Maccabees are placed at the end of the Old Testament and are thus related to the historical books. In the New Testament, the Gospels are followed by St. Paul’s Epistles, Acts, the general Epistles, and the Book of Revelation.