History Bible from Utrecht

This exceptionally beautiful part of a History Bible contains the New Testament with The Destruction of Jerusalem, preceded by the Book of Psalms. The text was copied in 1443 by Gerard Wesselszoon from Deventer, a professional scribe, who must have been living in Utrecht at the time. The Utrecht provenance is also corroborated by the shape of the painted foliage in the margin, and by the typical Utrecht pen-flourishes adorning the smaller initials. The illumination consists of a column-wide miniature and a historiated initial at the beginning of each major section; 23 other historiated initials have been incorporated in the text.

The first illuminated page of the book strikes us by its somewhat unusual lay-out. The text begins at the top of the left column with the prologue to the Psalms, which led to the rather peculiar position of the introductory miniature - David fighting Goliath - at the bottom of the page. The actual text of the psalm begins at the top of the right column with a historiated initial in which David, the author of the psalms, is shown playing the harp. Between the foliage round the text are six curious figures, the size of which is out of proportion to the rest of the illumination. The lower margin has to the left a musician with pipe and drum, in the middle a monkey tied to a block, and to the right a fool with a bauble. The right margin shows three dancers, two men with bells on their legs, and a woman with a kind of ring in her hand. This dance has recently been recognized as a morris dance, a folk dance in which several men court the favour of one woman. This dance, with strong elements of the dumb show and usually featuring a drumming piper and a fool, was rather popular in Western Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. It remains as yet an open question whether the figures have any connection with the beginning of the Book of Psalms, or have to be considered mere drolleries.

History Bible. Utrecht, 1443. Vellum, 248 leaves, 395 x 295 mm. Provenance: H. Wolff's antiquarian bookshop, The Hague, 1939. 69 B 10, fol. 8r

History Bible.Utrecht, 1443. Vellum, 248 leaves, 395 x 295 mm. Provenance: H. Wolff's antiquarian bookshop, The Hague, 1939. 69 B 10, fol. 8r

Literature

The golden age of Dutch manuscript painting. Stuttgart 1989, no. 43
Michael Schauder, 'Zur Deutung einer Drolerie in einer niederländischen Historienbibel', in: Obraz, slowo, gest i muzyka w kulturze s'redniowiecznej Europy. Pozna 1992.