anging from the story of the Creation to King David, the illustrations of The Morgan Crusader Bible of King Louis IX (1214- 1270) cover much biblical ground. 283 monumental pictures fill the 92 large- format pages of the royal manuscript. Rich layers of gold intensify the quality of the colours.
The manuscript, a chronicle of biblical events, was probably commissioned by Louis IX around 1250. Entirely without texts the picture stories of The Morgan Crusader Bible were painted in great detail, the narrative encompassing the Creation of Humankind, scenes of holy war, the Israelites’ acquisition of land and the deeds of the great men of the Old Testament. The artists were required to direct their attention to the war scenes in order to underline the importance of crusades and to provide encouragement for the conquest of the Holy Land.
Hardly any other ruler exerted as much influence on the intellectual and artistic developments of the 13th century as Louis IX. The king, who was always described as modest and ascetic, especially favoured book painting, architecture and gold work. The “Style Saint Louis” manifests itself in the well-developed harmony of the French Gothic of his time. Together with his mother, Louis IX encouraged and influenced contemporary artists for 44 years.
In 1226, only three weeks after the death of Louis VIII, he was crowned king in Reims at the age of twelve, but Blanche de Castile held the reign until 1234 and kept standing in for him from time to time until her death in 1252. Deep faith characterised the kings life and he was always willing to invest large amounts of money in the outer signs of his religiousness. In 1239 he acquired the relic of Christ’s crown of thorns, for which he had built the Sainte Chapelle, private royal chapel and highly visible reliquary.
Having recovered from a grave illness he took up the cross in December 1244. Only a month after Jerusalem had been overrun by the Muslims again. Louis IX remained a devoted crusader up to his death. From 1248 to 1254 he led the unsuccessful 7th crusade, in the course of which Louis IX was taken prisoner in Egypt and could only be released by payment of a high ransom. During his imprisonment he was impressed by the libraries of his Muslim opponents whose learning he held in high regard. In the year 1270 during his final crusade Louis died from dysentery in Tunis. The pious king never saw Jerusalem. Although he had been assured safe-conduct he refused to visit the ancient sites of Christianity as a pilgrim
Little is known about the library of Louis IX, which was exceptional in its time. Louis IX is said to have collected important texts of the Church fathers and to have loaned them for study. He himself learned to read in a richly ornamented Psalter. The miniature of another manuscript of the Pierpont Morgan Library, which shows him with his mother, Blanche de Castile, sitting enthroned above two monks who are in the process of producing a book, underlines his special interest in valuable manuscripts.
Among the many codices associated with the king, The Morgan Crusader Bible is undoubtedly a special book because Louis’s ideas about crusades, which were central to his rule and politics, are expressed artistically in it. In the pictures the biblical wars over the conquest of the Holy Land are transferred to Louis IX age showing 13th century armour and weaponry. The observer is supposed to get the impression of seeing France’s Christian ruler himself fighting and winning the battles. With The Morgan Crusader Bible Louis IX has left a memorial to himself, which equals the Sainte Chapelle in importance and grandeur.
The Morgan Crusader Bible with its 283 richly gilded miniatures was created around 1250 in a workshop in Paris. Originally the pictorial cycle was meant to remain entirely without texts. Around 1300 Latin texts summarising the images were put down the margins. The design and the colours of the initials indicate that Neopolitan scriptorium must have been entrusted with this task - maybe the codex had come to Naples as a present or inheritance and had become the property of the Anjou family. Following the reign of the Staufer, Louis’s brother Charles was the ruler there.
Only 300 years later do we learn the name of an owner of the codex for the first time: in those days it belonged to Bernhard Maciejowski, who was the Archbishop of Cracow and a Cardinal. At that time the Turks were threatening the Western World and Pope Clemens VIII sent a legation with presents to the Shah of Persia as conciliation. The legation left Rome in July 1604, visited Prague and Cracow, where Cardinal Maciejowski added his valuable picture bible to the presents, and reached Isfahan and the court of Shah Abbas of Persia in 1607.
The Shah was obviously highly interested in the miniatures. Like the Neopolitans before him, who had summarised the contents of the miniatures in Latin texts, he had them written down in the Persian Language. The Shah did not like everything he saw on the pictures, for example removing the depiction of Absalom revolting against his father David, which was shown on three pages. Luckily these folios have been preserved in the famous Ludwig Collection (today in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California, Ms. Ludwig 1.6) and in the Parisian Bibliotèque Nationale (MS. nouv. acq. lat. 2294), where they have survived intact. These three folios complete the line of narration of the New York Manuscript.
In the 17th century Judeo-Persian texts were added to the manuscript as the third commentary, presumably on behalf of a Jewish owner or collector. Further owners are known from the 19th century on: Johannes Athanasiou, a Greek, who put the manuscript up for auction in London in 1833, and finally the great English bibliophile Sir Thomas Philips, whose heirs sold the manuscript to John Pierpont Morgan in 1916. Since then the codex has become one of the most important medieval manuscripts of this collection under the signature 638.
The artistic origin of The Morgan Crusader Bible is at least as fascinating as its journey through the centuries. The earliest descriptions already point out that the almost 300 pictures resemble wall-paintings. There exists nothing comparable in the studios of Parisian illuminators around 1250, which were specialised in miniaturised forms. It seems reasonable not to look for the artists among the illuminators, but among the group of artists that were occupied with creating the wall and glass painting of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris during those times. The Sainte Chapelle had been consecrated in 1249, and the artists that had worked at it were ready for new tasks.
Altogether six painters participated in the creation of The Morgan Crusader Bible. Not only can they be distinguished according to their styles and characteristics, but also according to their colouring. Varying shades of blue characterise the pictures of the different artists, but also differences in the shades of red and green give proof of the painter’s individuality. The differences become especially clear in the frequent use of gold. Shining gold leaf alternates with subdued, muted gold of differing intensity and structure that was attached with a brush. In this way each picture and each page of the manuscript has its own distinct character. The re-creation of all these nuances in a great challenge for the Fine Art Facsimile Publishers of Switzerland.
The Fine Art Facsimile Edition of The Morgan Crusader Bible of Saint Louis will be published in a numbered edition strictly limited to 980 copies world-wide. For the first time in nearly 400 years it brings together all 92 pages of the manuscript, namely the picture bible of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York (M. 638) with the folios of the Bibliotèque Nationale de France (Ms. nouv. acq. lat. 2294) and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu (originally Ludwig Collection, Aachen, Ms. I 6). True to the original in every detail the Facsimile Edition also takes the various kinds of gold in the manuscript into account, which is made possible by a unique combination of the most modern technology and highly qualified craftsmanship. Together with experts from the Pierpont Morgan Library the specialists of the Fine Art Facsimile Publishers of Switzerland supervise every step in the production of the Facsimile Edition in order to achieve perfection in every area.
The original binding of the manuscript has been lost over the centuries. Today the original in the Pierpont Morgan Library is being protected by a dark green leather binding from the beginning of this century. The Bodlean Library in Oxford, however, owns a Parisian manuscript that was commissioned by the king around the same time as The Morgan Crusader Bible and that still has its original binding. This binding will serve as a model for the full leather cover of The Morgan Crusader Bible of Louis IX. The Gothic leather binding is ornamented with motifs of animals and flowers that are re-drawn and stamped for this edition. Consequently, this edition will also become a special example of the Gothic art of binding.
Professor Daniel Weiss of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, the most renowned expert on the manuscript today, has agreed to author the commentary volume. The collaboration of Willam Voelkle, Curator of the Pierpont Morgan Library, has also been secured. In the commentary volume the Latin, Persian and Judeo-Persian texts will be translated and commented upon. The commentary volume will come out together with the Facsimile Edition which is limited to 980 copies world-wide.
A documentation kit containing 2 sample pages, in the original size (39 x 29 cm), from the Morgan Crusader Bible Fine Art Facsimile Volume, plus an illustrated, 16 page information brochure, is available for $US70.