The Holkham Bible Picture Book and the Bible Moralisée

The Holkham Bible Picture Book and the Bible Moralisée

By John Lowden

The Medieval Book Glosses from Friends and Colleagues of Christopher de Hamel, edited by James H . Marrow, Richard A . Linenthal, and William Noel (Hes and De Graff Publishers, 2010)

Introduction: It is generally agreed that the Holkham Bible Picture Book (London, British Library, Add. ms 47682, referred to here as ‘Holkham’) was made in a London workshop, c.1320–1330/1340, perhaps around 1327. It comprises forty-two thick parchment folios of middling format, 285 × 210 mm, gathered for the most part in quires of four leaves. Most of the pages are taken up with images, to which lengthy Anglo-Norman captions, generally beginning ‘Comment. . .’, were added as part of the production process. These texts are in rhyming couplets through folio 14r and subsequently in prose. The visual narrative begins with the Creation, and continues as far as the Drunkenness of Noah (fol. 9r), followed by a Jesse Tree and a tree of the Matthean genealogy (fols. 10r, 10v), a Gospel cycle—remarkable for the inclusion of many apocryphal elements— ending with the A scension (fol. 38r), and eight pages of ‘last things’ (fols. 39r–42v). There are two blank pages (fol. 9v and 38v). Prefacing the Creation is what might be termed a foreword, comprising three pages with images of the book’s creation (fol. 1r), the wheel of fortune (fol. 1v), and the Creator (fol. 2r). It is this foreword that is the focus of the present enquiry. Michelle Brown has suggested that the first folio might originally have been planned to preface the Gospel images, but the present study will bring forward arguments which suggest that the current arrangement of folio 1 makes good sense.

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