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The Death of Sennacherib
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Unknown
Italian, Sicily, about 1300
Tempera colors and gold on parchment
2 7/8 x 6 7/8 in.
MS. 35, LEAF 1

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One of two surviving miniatures from a book of Old Testament prophets made in Sicily around 1300, the illumination shows three separate episodes from the Israelites' battle with Sennacherib, king of Assyria, now Iraq, as recounted by the prophet Isaiah. The angel flying above a pile of corpses on the right illustrates the first episode: Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.

In the center scene, surrounded by dead corpses, Sennacherib and his remaining troops depart for the city of Nineveh. The story's climactic ending occurs on the left: Sennacherib's two sons betray him, stabbing him in the back as he prays before a pagan idol. His death saves the Israelites from Assyrian occupation. The artist painted the miniature in an elegant late Byzantine style seen in the careful modeling of the horses, the figures' elongated proportions, and the finely observed details of the soldiers' armor. The blue lines descending into the top center of the miniature are the remains of a decorative letter from the now-lost text above.