Illuminated Medieval Vellum Manuscript Bible/complete Ecclesiastes Song Of Songs

Illuminated Medieval Vellum Manuscript Bible/complete Ecclesiastes Song Of Songs

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Illuminated Medieval Vellum Manuscript Bible/complete Ecclesiastes Song Of Songs:

[Holy Bible - Latin - Vulgate Version - Old Testament] [Roman Catholic Church] 
[Hebrew Bible - Ketuvim - Megillot - Ecclesiastes; Song of Songs] [King Solomon]
[Illuminated Manuscripts - Medieval - 13th century]

Written and illuminated in Northern France, doubtless Paris, 2nd quarter of 13th Century (most likely c. 1240). 
Probably illuminated by the Gautier Lebaube atelier.

The manuscript comprises eight consecutive leaves, i.e. sixteen pages (disbound but still conjoint at gutter) from a finely illuminated 13th-century 'pocket format' Vulgate Latin Bible, comprising eight leaves and CONTAINING THE ENTIRE TEXT OF THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES AND THE SONG OF SONGS, some of the most interesting, enigmatic and influential books in the entire Scripture, which have been recognized as major works of literature in their own right, and have exerted a profound influence on Western culture. Also included are Chapters 26-31 of the Proverbs and Chapters 1-2 (Ch.2 without the two last verses) of the Wisdom of Solomon (not part of the Hebrew Bible, thus considered deuterocanonical by the Catholic Church and apocryphal by the Protestant Churches).

Incipit: "[opprime]tur a gloria. Sicut urbs patens et absque murorum ambitu..." (Proverbs 25:27-28)
Explicit: " judicaverunt honorem animarum sanctarum." (Wisdom 2:21)

The manuscript is written in very small and neat gothic bookhand, sometimes referred to as the pearl script, about which Derolez writes: "'Perlschrift' (pearl script) is an extremely small size of Textualis, developed by scribes in the thirteenth century especially to copy the famous 'Parisian pocket Bibles'. Although it was intended to be a luxurious high-level script, and thus one might expect to call it Textualis Formata, its letter forms, because they are so small, are simplified, often irregular (incorporating, for example, several shapes of a), and have few gothic refinements. Where these do occur, as in the bifurcation at the top of the ascenders. they tend to be exaggerated." (Albert Derolez, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books, p.100)

The fragment contains three finely executed 6-line illuminated initials, two of which incorporate grotesque dragon-like animals, and one has a long marginal extension. On the stylistic grounds the illumination is tentatively (but with high probability) attributed to the Gautier Lebaube atelier which was active in Paris ca. 1240. 

Gauthier Lebaube clearly specialized in Bibles (of the fifteen manuscripts attributed to the Lebaube Atelier by Branner, thirteen are Bibles). Lebaube's productions were in high demand, and he attracted luxurious commissions from the most noble clients: the two illuminated leaves in Glazier Collection with the Tree of Affinity and Consanguinity (one of which bears the artist's signature) may have been made for St Louis himself). One of the finely illuminated Bibles produced by this atelier (Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Lat.14397) was given to the Abbey of St Victor in Paris by Queen Blanche of Castille (died in 1252). 

The ornamentation of the illuminated initials in our portion of the Bible shows a definite resemblance to some of the initials in BnF MS Lat.14397. Branner writes (Manuscript Painting in Paris During the Reign of St.Louis, p.73) that a hallmark of the Lebaube ornamental style was "the frequent use of small animals, birds and monsters [...] [p]articularly dogs seem to be [...] ubiquitous", further noting the frequent occurrence of "hybrids," i.e. dragons with human or animal heads, whose bodies often form the marginal extensions of the painted initials, like in the beautiful illuminated initial 'D' on f.8r of our manuscript (opening of the Wisdom).

In thirteenth century the theologians at the University of Paris established what was to become the standard form of the Latin Bible. In the context of the new needs of the Paris classroom and the development of preaching, the standardized "Paris" Bible took its final shape by about 1230. It contains a canonic selection of the books (in fixed order), prologues, running titles, and the division of the books into the numbered chapters established by Stephen Langton around 1205 and still universally employed. 

The so-called pocket Bibles produced in the thirteenth century in Paris, as well as in several other European cultural centers, such as Oxford and Bologna, appear to have arisen to address the specific context of preaching and the evangelistic mission of the friars, especially the Dominicans and the Franciscans. In this context a complete, portable text of the Bible was a great advantage. As in the case of modern Bibles, that crucial portability was achieved through the use of tiny script and pages of lightweight, very thin vellum.

"It was at this time (c.1230) that the very small "pocket" Bibles first came to be manufactured. Portability [...] was the chief criterion and reflects the new need in university circles to carry one's Bible from place to place; students in Paris were in fact required to bring Bibles to class." (Branner, op. cit., p.10 n.45)

The Song of Songs is one of the most evocative and enigmatic books in the Bible. It appears to be a collection of poetry on the theme of human love, often frankly erotic, featuring two primary figures: a male lover and a female lover. Often called world's greatest love poem, The Song of Songs has played a fascinating role in the history of Western culture, was "the most frequently interpreted book of medieval Christianity" (Ann Matter) and inspired numerous medieval Jewish commentaries as well. It also plays a crucial role in the Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbalah. Under the influence of the Kabbalah the custom arose, especially in Hasidism, of reciting the Song of Songs on the eve of the Sabbath.

The Book of Ecclesiastes also had a profound influence on Western literature and philosophy from Chaucer to Hemingway and from Shakespeare to Kierkegaard. With its remarkably skeptical philosophical inquiry as an expression of a timeless human quest for the meaning of life, Ecclesiastes is sometimes considered the first existentialist text. The title of Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises comes from Ecclesiastes 1:5: "The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to his place where he arose." 

American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote of Ecclesiastes: "[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man's life upon this earth — and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth. I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound."

Physical description:

Eight consecutive leaves (forming 16 pages) from an illuminated manuscript Vulgate Bible on vellum (disbound but still conjoint at gutter with remnants of the original stitching), containing the Biblical text from Proverbs 25:28 to Wisdom 2:21.

Leaves measure 156 mm x 104 mm, justification 102 mm x 68 mm, written in double columns of 43 lines per page, in a small Gothic bookhand (textualis) in dark-brown ink.

Ruled in brown ink with 44 horizontals, plus two additional horizontals in top margins for running titles, and four verticals (all four verticals, the top two, bottom two and two central horizontals, as well as the pair of horizontals within top margin are 'through lines' spanning entire leaf (cf. Derolez, p.38).

The first line of text is written below the top ruled line (common scribal practice which began around 1210-20 (cf. Derolez, p.39).

Running titles and chapter numbers (Roman numerals) in capitals alternating in red and blue. Many 1- or 2-line initials at chapter openings in red and blue, some with marginal extensions.

Three beautifully painted 6-line initials: 'V' at the opening of the Ecclesiastes on folio 3r, 'O' at opening of the Song of Songs on folio 6v and 'D' at opening of the Wisdom on folio 8r in red, cobalt blue, light blue, pink, purple, orange, white and brown with stylized floral and foliate decoration; the initial on folio 6v also incorporating a grotesque two-headed clawed quadruped. The initials on folios 3r and 8r with marginal extensions: the former with a short one, the latter with a long one forming an almost half-page "bar border" in the form of a winged dragon-like creature terminating with a dog's head within the body of the initial, among the foliate ornamentation.

Some of the leaves with slightly later (late thirteenth-century) marginalia in very neat, tiny cursive hand - apparently theological commentaries, but have not been studied. Also, a slightly later added (probably in same hand) line numbering in central margin.


Very good antiquarian condition. Disbound, but leaves still conjoined at gutter, held together with remnants of the original stitching, which is beginning to loosen somewhat. Very light hand-soiling to some margins; some marginalia in neat and tiny late 13th-century cursive hand. Very minor vellum flaw at tip of the bottom corner (blank) of folio 3 (very far from text, no loss). Top margin cropped somewhat close by an early binder, just touching a few running titles. Usual light 'bleeding through' from the painted initials. In all, an extremely clean, bright and pleasing example of a very important portion from a superbly illuminated medieval "pocket Bible".

Please click on thumbnails below to see larger images.

Further notes on Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs:

The Book of Ecclesiastes (Greek: Ἐκκλησιαστής, Hebrew: קֹהֶלֶת, Koheleth) is a book of the Old Testament, which belongs to the Ketuvim (in Biblical Hebrew: כְּתוּבִים writings) is the third and final section of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), after Torah (instruction) and Nevi'im (prophets). The title is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Koheleth, meaning "Gatherer", but traditionally translated as "Teacher" or "Preacher". Koheleth introduces himself as "son of David, king in Jerusalem," perhaps implying that he is Solomon, but the work is in fact anonymous and was most probably composed in the last part of the 3rd century BC. The book is in the form of an autobiography telling of author's investigation of the meaning of life and the best way of life. He proclaims all the actions of man to be inherently hevel, a word meaning "vain", "futile", "empty", "meaningless", "temporary", "transitory", "fleeting," or "mere breath," as the lives of both wise and foolish men end in death. While Koheleth clearly endorses wisdom as a means for a well-lived earthly life, he is unable to ascribe eternal meaning to it. In light of this perceived senselessness, he suggests that one should enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life, such as eating, drinking, and taking enjoyment in one's work, which are gifts from the hand of God. The book concludes with an injunction to "Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone" (12:13).

The book takes its name from the Greek ekklesiastes, a translation of the title by which the central figure refers to himself: Koheleth, meaning something like "one who convenes or addresses an assembly". According to Rabbinic tradition he was Solomon in his old age, but for various reasons critical scholars have long rejected this idea. The author of Ecclesiastes is presently a mystery. On linguistic grounds (the presence of Persian loan-words) the book points to a date no earlier than about 450 BCE, while the latest possible date for its composition is 180 BCE, when another Jewish writer, Ben Sira, quotes from it. Most commentators admit that knowing the date of Ecclesiastes with any certainty is impossible with the current available evidence.

Ecclesiastes takes its literary form from the Middle Eastern tradition of the fictional autobiography, in which a character, often a king, relates his experiences and draws lessons from them, often self-critical: Koheleth likewise identifies himself as a king, speaks of his search for wisdom, relates his conclusions, and recognises his limitations.

In traditional Judaism, Ecclesiastes is read either on Shemini Atzeret (by Yemenites, Italians, some Sepharadim, and the mediaeval French Jewish rite) or on the Shabbat of the Intermediate Days of Sukkot (by Ashkenazim). If there is no Intermediate Sabbath of Sukkot, even the Ashkenazim read it on Shemini Atzeret (or, for Ashkenazim in the Land of Israel, on the first Shabbat of Sukkot). It is read on Sukkot as a reminder to not get too caught up in the festivities of the holiday, as well as to carry over the happiness of sukkot to the rest of the year by telling the listeners that without God, life is meaningless. When the listeners take this to heart, then true happiness can be achieved throughout the year. The final poem of Koheleth (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8) has been interpreted in the Targum, Talmud, and Midrash, and by the rabbis Rashi, Rashbam, and ibn Ezra, as an allegory of old age.

The presence of Ecclesiastes in the bible is something of a puzzle, as the common themes of the Hebrew canon - a God who reveals and redeems, who elects and cares for a chosen people - are absent from it. The problem has been apparent from the earliest recorded discussions (the Council of Jamnia in the 1st century CE). One argument advanced then was that the name of Solomon carried enough authority to ensure its inclusion, but other works which appeared with Solomon's name were excluded despite being more orthodox than Ecclesiastes. Another was that the words of the epilogue, in which the reader is told to fear God and keep his commands, made it orthodox; but all later attempts to find anything in the rest of the book which would reflect this orthodoxy have failed.

Ecclesiastes has had a deep influence on Western literature: American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote: "[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth — and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth. I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound."

The Song of Songs of Solomon, commonly referred to as Song of Songs, (Hebrew: שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים, Latin: Cantĭcum Canticorum; Greek: ᾎσμα ᾎσμάτων), or Song of Solomon, is a book of the Old Testament - one of the megillot (scrolls) - found in Ketuvim.

"Song of songs" is a Hebrew grammatical construction denoting the superlative; that is, the title attests to the greatness of the song, similar to "the lord of lords", "The King of Kings" or "Holy of Holies" (used of the inner sanctuary of the Jerusalem temple). Rabbi Akiba declared, "Heaven foroffer that any man in Israel ever disputed that Song of Songs is holy. For the whole world is not worth the day on which Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy and Song of Songs is Holy of Holies." (Mishnah Yadayim 3:5). Similarly, Martin Luther called it Das Hohelied (the high song).

Although it is commonly held that an allegorical interpretation justified its inclusion in the Biblical canon, scholarly discussion has not reached any consensus on Song of Songs, and leaves other possibilities open. According to Jewish tradition in the Midrash and the Targum, the book is an allegory of God's love for the Children of Israel. In keeping with this understanding, certain verses of it are read by Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews on Shabbat eve, to symbolize the love between the Jewish People and God that is represented by Shabbat.

Scholars have noted that Song of Songs shows similarities of various kinds with other ancient Near Eastern love poetry in general, but particularly some Sumerian erotic passages, and the Ramesside Egyptian love poetry.

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Illuminated Medieval Vellum Manuscript Bible/complete Ecclesiastes Song Of Songs:

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