The J. Paul Getty Museum

The Construction of the Tower of Babel

Object Details


The Construction of the Tower of Babel



Rudolf von Ems (Austrian, about 1200 - 1254)




Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany (Place Created)


about 1400–1410


Tempera colors, gold, silver paint, and ink

Object Number:

Ms. 33 (88.MP.70), fol. 13


Leaf: 33.5 × 23.5 cm (13 3/16 × 9 1/4 in.)

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Object Description

A miniature showing the building of the Tower of Babel accompanies Rudolf von Ems's retelling of the Old Testament story. The dapperly dressed King Nimrod, at left, supervises the construction of the tower by workers. The building procedures probably mirror medieval practices closely. The laborers stand on wooden scaffolding with beams inserted into the walls through put holes. Two rows of put holes are visible below the windows, showing earlier stages of the scaffolding. The workers also hoist bricks and stone to the upper levels using a pulley system.

The artist's representation of the technology and clothing of his own time was designed to make the biblical event more accessible to his audience. The bold colors and simple forms give the work an engaging vibrancy, which also draws in the viewer. These features of Bavarian art stand in contrast to the jewel-like color, linearity, and demure physical types of the International style that flourished in painting and manuscript illumination made for many European courts during the same years in which this manuscript was made.

Ten Centuries of Manuscript Illumination in Germany and Central Europe (July 21 to October 18, 1998)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), July 21 to October 18, 1998
Building the Medieval World: Architecture in Illuminated Manuscripts (March 2 to May 16, 2010)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), March 2 to May 16, 2010