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This leaf belonged to a finely illuminated Bible that was made for serious use and study. There was great demand for books in thriving, 13th-century Bologna with its flourishing university. The town was also a newly founded centre of the Dominican order that quickly expanded over Italy and beyond.
On the recto of the present page, the first column contains the end of the Book of Numbers (Numbers 36 or, as written in the margin: XXXVI), and the historiated initial H opens the beginning of the Book of Deuteronomy (Chapters 1–4), dealing with the final speeches of Moses, in which the journey through the wilderness from Horeb (Sinai) to Kadesh and then to Moab is recalled: "Haec sunt verba quae locutus est Moses ad omnem Israhel trans Iordanem in solitudine campestri contra mare Rubrum ...." . (Deuteronomy I, 1-44; "These are the words, which Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan, in the plain wilderness, over against the Red Sea ...").
The letter H shows Moses in an orange robe with blue/grey hair touched in white. With a rod he points to the water before him and instructs the three soldiers standing beyond the water. They are depicted with jugs and bowls in their hands. Interestingly, the illustration focusses on an earlier event (Numbers 20:8-11), when God instructs Moses to strike water: “take the rod, and assemble the people together ... and speak to the rock before them, and it shall yield waters. And when thou hast brought forth water out of the rock, all the multitude and their cattle shall drink.” Apparently, the illuminators of these Bibles either had a limited number of iconographic models available or preferred to illustrate a less engaging text with a more appealing scene – as the theme here would be suggested by the words that “Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan”, which was perhaps too abstract. Therefore, the artist added Moses handling a rod while he spoke to figures beyond a river.
Stylistically this miniature originated from the exciting trend of Italian illumination that was highly influenced by Byzantine art from the eastern Mediterranean. The figures with their green undertones have fantastically-delineated faces, where the nose and eyebrows are connected to form the dominant contours of the face, and are then further highlighted with lines of pure white. After placing the eyes and delicately stroking on the lips, the faces are finished with a circular dab of a pale red on the cheeks.
Also have a look at one of the known sister leaves.