The thriving 13th-century Italian cities created a great demand for manuscripts. Especially Bologna with its flourishing university and as backbone of the young Dominican order, was a major centre for the production of Gothic illuminated Bibles. This leaf comes from such a bible and its initial opens the Book of Numbers: "And the Lord spoke to Moses in the desert of Sinai in the tabernacle of the covenant, the first day of the second month, the second year of their going out of Egypt."
At first glance, one associates the artist of this historiated initial (and other known sister leaves) with the generation of Bolognese masters working in the second half of the 13th century, who created the Primo Stile Bolognese – echoing Byzantine traditions. Their work is quite commonly found in Bibles from Bologna. New scribes and artists kept emerging from the town's large number of students and professional men.
The vibrant palette and style of the figures are quite idiosyncratic. This allows for an association with the circle of the First Master of the Infortiatum dating c. 1270-1300 (Paris, BnF, ms. lat. 4476). This master has a linear style of figures and formed his borders with delicate foliage and small animals, such as the duck in the present leaf.
The page at hand captures a transitional moment in Bolognese illumination. It is the work of an artist who, with further study, may be found in other books emanating from this centre of illumination. This page and its sister leaves can be placed in the mainstream of prestigious Bolognese manuscript production at a time when Bologna and its artists dominated the book arts throughout Italy. With its bright illumination, large format and excellent condition it is a splendid witness to the fine achievements of this famous university town, fundamental not only to the history of law education and legal manuscripts but also to the history of the Dominican order and illuminated Latin bibles.