6. The Book of Books: from Giant Bibles to Pocket Bibles

Starting from the events of the Latin Bible in the Medieval West it is possible to reconstruct the history of this work diffusion in Friuli between the eleventh and fifteenth century.

The definition of giant Bibles breaks into scholarship literature in the Twenties of the last century; it described a non-perfectly distinct nebula of large-format biblical manuscripts datable between the half of the eleventh and the half of the following century. Thanks to the work of an art historian, Edward B. Garrison, the big group of those folio-format Bibles could be more precisely classified, after defining, on the basis of miniated initials, an old core datable within the end of the eleventh century and referable to the so-called Umbro-Roman region, juxtaposed to a more recent series, assigned to the first half of the twelfth century and made up of specimens of plausibly Tuscan production. Nevertheless, another art historian, Peter H. Brieger, put the oldest core of those manuscripts in relation with the universalistic ambitions in the Rome of the ‘Gregorian’ reformation. The two giant Bibles nowadays kept in Friuli are an excellent sample of the family they belong to: both codices are in the largest possible format for the medieval production of handwritten books in parchment (this is the reason for the English term ‘giant’ and the Italian ‘atlantiche’ (atlas), used for these books).
Since the decisive twelfth-century turning point the axle of the bookish culture would have been decisively oriented towards text and philology, with a slow and progressive fading of the symbolical effects of the book as an object. The glossed Bible book, whose origins are to be sought in the rising city’s schools of Paris, is actually a revolutionary novelty of that century, both on the plane of theoretic developments and under the profile of material manufacturing. Due to its Studium Paris can eventually be considered the workshop able to mould the monolithic Bible of the early and high Middle Ages into a fluid, changing textual machine, rich of exegetic and interpretative tools. Among several varied materializations of the so-called Biblia Parisiensis we can locate also the two exemplars kept at the ‘Biblioteca Guarneriana’, one of which (ms. 248) is precocious, the other (ms. 284) is rather later. Among other things, the two Guarneriana Bibles in an excellent manner exemplify the rule according which even decoration was not completely left to individual solutions in a Parisian bible: in the Psalter, for instance, only eight psalms deserved more or less lavishly decorated initials.
Far from the vital ganglia of the modern culture, in which the Bible could at the same time find new cultural ways of codification and, subsequently, new paths of codex manufacturing, the biblical codex did not give up being considered an object of luxury at all. The new kingdoms with their lay courts, and first among them the Swabian courts of Frederick II, Manfred, Conradin, started to recruit the best masters for manufacturing Bibles of a majestic (et pour cause) visual effect. Albeit neither certain nor demonstrable, it is not improbable that the ‘Byzantine’ Bible of the Biblioteca Guarneriana (ms. 3) belongs to this category of sumptuous products. From this viewpoint of the Bible as an object not a lesser magnificence was displayed by the more and more influent ecclesiastical institutions, such as many cathedral Chapters, where courts of a certain relief, and devoted to the arts and culture, had become livelier. Quite an eloquent example thereof is given by the Bible in five volumes (nowadays kept at Gorizia, Biblioteca del Seminario, manuscripts 1-5: the sample here given is the ms. 4) probably manufactured in the Eighties of the thirteenth century for the Chapter of Aquileia.

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