Marquette Bible
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Franco-Flemish, probably Lille, about 1270
Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment bound in three volumes between pasteboard covered with reddish-brown pigskin


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Monks or nuns probably read aloud from this large Bible at mealtimes in the refectory of a monastery. A team of lay artisans practicing their craft in the thriving commercial cities of the French-Flemish border region wrote and illuminated the book around 1270. From the surviving portions of this manuscript, it is evident that at least six different artists worked on the initials alone; scholars presume that the team of illuminators responsible for the original seven-volume Bible was even larger.

The manuscript's large scale allowed the assembled monks or nuns to appreciate from afar the richness of its decorative scheme. Historiated initials, the usual form of decoration for thirteenth-century bibles, appear at the beginning of each biblical book, and a few fanciful vignettes decorate the margins. The burnished gold backgrounds, dragon motifs, and spiraling tendrils of leaves are characteristic features of northern French Gothic illumination.

In the 1400s, the Bible belonged to the Cistercian convent at Marquette in northeastern France. An inscription in the manuscript in a later hand reports that Philip, Duke of Burgundy, a member of the most influential family of art patrons in late medieval France and Flanders, gave the manuscript to the nuns.

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