Byzantine Bible

  • S. XIII in.; parchment; mm 520 × 348; ff. 257.
  • San Daniele del Friuli, Biblioteca Civica Guarneriana, 3

The ‘Byzantine’ Bible remains an enigma as to the reasons of its patrons and the location of its scriptorium.

Among the extraordinary codices of the library collected by Guarniero d’Artegna, the so-called ‘Byzantine’ Bible duly deserves an exceptional place. Albeit called briefly Bible, this codex is in fact the only extant (second) volume of a Bibliotheca in two volumes: indeed it exposes the last portion of the Old Testament and the entire complex of the New Testament books. Just a handful of numbers is sufficient to make clear the reasons for the objective worth of this large-format book. In its 257 leaves there can be counted 21 large-format inhabited or historiated initials, 1144 decorated initials of smaller dimensions and 175 miniated headpieces. These numbers appear even more eloquent if we consider that 86 illuminated initials have been cut out, and other have been so much mutilated or damaged that they are no longer readable. The remote history of the codex has its starting point in the moment when it was purchased by Guarnerio d’Artegna: he acquired this real monument of illumination by the heirs of the patriarch of Aquileia Antonio Pancera (1402-1412). And before that? What is before is just the cause of a crowd of conflicting hypotheses about the origin of the manuscript. All specialists agree in one point: the illuminator (or illuminators) that did their work for the miniatures and decorations of the volume share the same ‘eastern’ expressive code, hence the ‘Byzantine’ definition of the Bible. Among the different scholars’ hypotheses attempting to establish the production centre of this manuscript, some have spoken about a Sicilian school capable of a very high synthesis of Latin characteristics and Byzantine peculiarities; others have proposed the scriptorium of the Saint Sepulchre itself, founded in Jerusalem in 1125 by the English prior William, bishop of Tyre, then, after the fall of the holy city in 1187, settled at Acre. A completely different position would have been engaged by Valentino Pace, who was convinced that the ‘Byzantine’ Bible was the product of an undefined scriptorium of southern Italy, but surely non-Sicilian: more probable, in Pace’s assessment, a location between Apulia and Calabria.

 f. 28r, initial of the book of the prophet Haggai

f. 28r, initial of the book of the prophet Haggai

f.. 156v, initial of the book of the Maccabees

f.. 156v, initial of the book of the Maccabees

f.. 233r, initial of St. Paul’s second epistle to Timothy

f.. 233r, initial of St. Paul’s second epistle to Timothy

f. 24r, initial of the Byzantine Bible

f. 24r, initial of the Byzantine Bible

f. 207r, initial of the Byzantine Bible

f. 207r, initial of the Byzantine Bible

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