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Initial I: The Rebuilding of the Temple
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Unknown
Franco-Flemish, probably Lille, about 1270
Tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment
Leaf: 18 1/2 x 12 11/16 in.
MS. LUDWIG I 8, V3, FOL. 256V

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An initial I introduces the text of the Old Testament book of Ezra in this large, thirteenth-century Bible. The illuminator used the letter to support a scene of the Restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem during the reign of Cyrus of Persia. The choice of this image to open Ezra's text suggests the authority of biblical descriptions of Jerusalem at this time, when Europe was busy trying to recapture Jerusalem through repeated Crusades.

The artist, envisioning the ancient historical event in contemporary terms, represented the workmen as medieval masons. At the left, a craftsman perched on a ladder wields a small trowel for applying mortar, while his partner to the right holds a pick. Above, an elegantly dressed man in a long gown holds a right angle, one of the principal tools of medieval architects. Despite the solidity and credibility of the architectural structure, it is supported by a two-headed dragon with a fantastically graceful, elongated neck and a tail that sprouts into a leafy vine scroll extending down the side of the text. Despite the heavy physical labor required of masons, the human workers pivot elegantly, displaying gestures characteristic of Gothic manuscript illumination.