The J. Paul Getty Museum

The Building of the Tower of Babel

Object Details


The Building of the Tower of Babel


First Master of the Bible historiale of Jean de Berry (French, active about 1390 - about 1400)





Paris, France (Place Created)


about 1390 - 1400


Tempera colors, colored washes, gold leaf, and ink on parchment

Object Number:

Ms. Ludwig XIII 3 (83.MP.146.2), leaf 2v


Leaf: 37.8 × 29.8 cm (14 7/8 × 11 3/4 in.)

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Object Description

This miniature shows how those living around 1400 might have constructed the Tower of Babel using pulleys, winches, and manual labor. As recounted in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, the Babylonians wished to build a tower "with its top in the heavens." Displeased with the arrogant project, God prevented its completion by giving the builders a multitude of languages so that they could not communicate with each other. A prophet wrapped in billowing drapery at the left directs the viewer's gaze and mind to the moral of the story. The two figures operating the pulley on top of the tower look fearfully to the left where the judgment of God descends in punishment in the form of a sword.

Illuminating the Past: Historical Texts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (February 2 to April 11, 1993)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), February 2 to April 11, 1993
The International Style: Courtly Art Around the Year 1400 (October 24, 1994 to January 8, 1995)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), October 24, 1994 to January 8, 1995
The Old Testament in Medieval Manuscript Illumination (June 1 to August 8, 2010)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), June 1 to August 8, 2010