Medieval Manuscripts: Prayer or Propaganda? The Hidden Meanings of a Renaissance Bible

When it came to supporting the arts, the Duke of Ferrara Borso d’Este was very pragmatic. Because his ambition was to defeat bordering Italian dynasties and expand the duchy’s territory, the artworks he commissioned were specifically designed to prove his value as an ideal ruler.

Beauty and politics intertwine in many of the objects produced at his court, but the Bible of Borso d’Este is perhaps the most intricate. Its thousand pages are rich in everyday objects, farming tools, real and imaginary animals, which all conceal a hidden message!


Many of the unicorns are seen dipping their horns in rivers or ponds – this gesture is not accidental but refers to the Duke’s land reclamation project that allowed his people to grow crops on previously barren land. The white, immaculate creature purifies water in the same way Borso d’Este purified his territory.

The worbas, a fantastic animal with the wings of a griffin, the body of a lynx, and a mermaid’s tail, is also a symbol of success: its name probably derives from the ancient German word worwaerts (“going forward”), alluding to the Duke’s intention to develop and expand his domain.


If you’re ready to thumb through this Renaissance masterpiece, check out the FacsimileFinder Bookplate blog.

volume II

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