Gospelbook from Meuse Valley

The Koninklijke Bibliotheek owes a large number of its Southern Netherlandish and French manuscripts to the brief period between 1815 and 1830 when the Netherlands and Belgium formed one kingdom. In those days King William I bought some large collections of manuscripts and early printed books from private owners, which he alternately placed in the Royal Libraries of Brussels and The Hague. One of his acquisitions was the library of the Belgian historian G.J. Gérard in 1818, which, besides containing mostly writings on Belgian history, included also a number of magnificent Southern Netherlandish illuminated codices. The collection was originally placed in the General Archives of the Netherlands and partly transferred to the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in 1832.

Thus this Gospelbook, which must have been executed in the Meuse Valley in the second half of the twelfth century, entered the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. It contains the text of the four gospels and is illuminated with ten canon tables (tables indicating the concordance between the parallel passages in the gospels) and portraits of the four evangelists. In three cases the portrait is put on the left-hand page, while the gospel text starts on the opposite page, with a conspicuous decoration of initials and coloured bands. This creates an attractive beginning of the gospel, as can be seen here, with to the left St. John the Evangelist with his symbol, the eagle, and to the right the initial words of his gospel ‘[In] principio erat verbum ...’ ([In] the beginning was the Word). The letters I and N of the first word have been worked into the background of the miniature. The bright red, blue and green colours and the division of the background into geometric areas are characteristic of Romanesque miniatures. The austere and imposing way in which the evangelists have been portrayed indicates that the painter, who had a somewhat archaic working method, may have used an Ottonian model of around the year 1000. He must have derived the postures of the evangelists and the motif of intertwined initials in the background from this model. So far it has not been possible to locate the actual centre or monastery where he must have lived.

Gospels. Meuse Valley, second half of the twelfth century. Vellum, 131 leaves, 314 x 212 mm. 76 E 17, fol. 100v-101r

Gospels. Meuse Valley, second half of the twelfth century. Vellum, 131 leaves, 314 x 212 mm. 76 E 17, fol. 100v-101r

Literature

Schatten van de Koninklijke Bibliotheek. 's-Gravenhage 1980, no. 15
De verluchte handschriften en incunabelen van de Koninklijke Bibliotheek. 's-Gravenhage 1985, no. 348; P.C. Boeren.
Catalogus van de liturgische handschriften van de Koninklijke Bibliotheek. 's-Gravenhage 1988, no. 41.