The Cycle of the Life and Passion of Christ in the Bible of Avila
By Monica Ann Walker-Vadillo
Master’s Thesis, University of Florida, 2004
Abstract: The Bible of Avila is a 12th century manuscript whose origins can be traced to the Umbro-Roman region in Italy, from where it traveled to Spain sometime during the third quarter of the 12th century. Once it reached Spain, it was completed with the texts of Esdras 3-5, and the Psalms. In addition, three folios were incorporated at an unknown date. These folios have made the Bible of Avila famous since they depict the largest pictorial cycle of the Life and Passion of Christ in manuscript illumination found in Romanesque Spain. Yet for all its renown, the Bible remains a mystery. Many scholars have cited the Bible of Avila and the Cycle, but none have attempted to study them carefully.
The Cycle of the Life and Passion of Christ in the Bible of Avila presents some unique qualities that make it an exceptional case study. While there are inscriptions identifying the individual scenes and figures, no text accompanies this cycle. The iconography of some scenes seems to have no precedent in Spain. In addition, the Cycle contains some compositional elements that are full of originality. This presentation deals with the iconographic and stylistic sources that may help date these folios. To achieve this end, I have made a number of comparisons with manuscript illumination, fresco painting, sculpture, and the sumptuary arts found in the north of Spain from the 10th to the 12th centuries. Through this methodology it is possible to conclude that the artist, the Master of the Cycle of the Life and Passion of Christ, was an itinerant artist who was well traveled and was familiar with the works of art produced in the kingdoms of Castile and Leon, Navarre, Aragon and even in Catalonia. Thus the Cycle of the Life and Passion of Christ would appear to date from the second quarter of the 12th century. Another important element that is addressed in my conclusion is the possible function of the folios. Certain aspects of the Cycle suggest that they could have been used as a teaching device or as a model book.