The Italian Renaissance Bible of the Fregosi family: Part II

This blog continues from part I, exploring MS Gen 1060 with Polina Govorukhina, MLitt Art History student from the University of Glasgow.

Folio 4r: Genesis

An interesting feature within the illustrative plan of the folio that represents stories from Genesis is the inclusion of the Cain and Abel story (Figure 7). The choice of the subject is quite unusual and may relate to the custom where the client would indicate the preferred subjects to include in the decoration. The brothers are depicted making sacrifices to God. As is known from Genesis, God would choose Abel over Cain, who would later kill Abel in jealousy.

the illustrative plan of the folio that represents stories from Genesis is the inclusion of the Cain and Abel story.
Figure 7: the illustrative plan of the folio that represents stories from Genesis is the inclusion of the Cain and Abel story.

Folio 23v: Exodus

The illustration in this folio represents the exodus of Jews out of Egypt (lower margin) while the historiated letter depicts a scene from a Tabernacle tent (Figure 8). The scene is lit with light (golden pigment). The text is inscribed in the arch with two Corinthian columns at each side. The inclusion of the architectural setting creates an illusion of space; this, once again, indicates a strong reference to Mantegna’s style and the inclination towards antiquity that in general signified the features of the Renaissance style flourishing in Italy at the time. The polychrome columns (painted with multiple hues) suggest the Greek tradition of colouring white marble – a habit that was rejected during the Renaissance.

An eye-catching feature within the manuscript, and this folio in particular, is Moses depicted with two golden horns. This refers to an error in the translation of the Bible from Hebrew into Latin. The Jewish words “karan” or “karnaim” that stand for “rays” have been confused with “keren” which translates as “horns”.[1]

 the illustration in this folio represents the exodus of Jews out of Egypt (lower margin) while the historiated letter depicts a scene from a Tabernacle tent.
Figure 8: the illustration in this folio represents the exodus of Jews out of Egypt (lower margin) while the historiated letter depicts a scene from a Tabernacle tent.

Folio 39r: Leviticus (Figure 9)

In Leviticus, God indicates the ways for sinful Israelites to purify their souls to live in God’s presence. The second column of the text includes an historiated letter that looks like an ‘A’ or perhaps ‘D’. However, this appears to be a mistake: there should have been a ‘V’ instead as the text starts ‘Vocat Deus Moses’ which translates from Latin as ‘God called Moses’. Again, Moses is depicted with two prominent horns.

the second column of the text includes an historiated letter that looks like an 'A' or perhaps ‘D’
Figure 9: the second column of the text includes an historiated letter that looks like an ‘A’ or perhaps ‘D’ but this appears to be a mistake.

Folio 50r: Numbers (Figure 10)

This book recounts how the Israelites wandered in the wilderness after their departure from Sinai and before finding Canaan, the Promised Land. It describes their sufferings and complaints against God.

This is the first incompletely decorated page within the manuscript. Though lacking its final iconographical composition, it shows the artist’s process of work. The usual two-columned text is framed in a golden border. There is a blank square space reserved for the historiated letter that has never been executed. The two text columns are divided by a pattern executed in golden leaf. It would then incorporate more elaborate ornaments with gemstones and pearls included into them as is indicated in the previous decorated pages.

The usual two-columned text is framed in a golden border. There is a blank square space reserved for the historiated letter that has never been executed. The two text columns are divided by a pattern executed in golden leaf.
Figure 10: this is the first incompletely decorated page within the manuscript.

Folio 65r: Deuteronomy (Figure 11)

Moses receives the laws that God ordered his people to follow in order to covenant their faithfulness. The folio is also unfinished, but its completed elements here indicate a different order of production when compared with the previously examined Numbers page. For example, the historiated letter here is prominently sketched as in comparison to folio 50r. Therefore, it seems that the artist is not persistent in his process of work. The unfinished decorative frame within the folio represents an oriental style constructed of geometrical patterns painted with contrasting colours of black, emerald and red.

The unfinished decorative frame within the folio represents an oriental style constructed of geometrical patterns painted with contrasting colours of black, emerald and red.
Figure 11: the unfinished decorative frame within the folio represents an oriental style constructed of geometrical patterns painted with contrasting colours of black, emerald and red.

Folio 199v: Judith (Figure 12)

The least completed illustration, the design here has been sketched out in faint pencil drawings. Due to the significant gap in time since the manuscript’s production, the original drawings within this folio are faded away and can now be barely traced with a bare eye. To solve this issue, I manipulated the digital image to enhance the drawing.

The historiated letter that is supposed to have been incorporated at the top left is missing. Sketches in the left margin depict a few buildings on the top that lead to numerous tents. In front of the foregrounded tent is Judith. She stands outside of the tent holding Holofernes’s head. She seduced Holofernes and then beheaded him to help the Israelites counter-attack the Assyrians on whose side was Holofernes. Her servant on the left holds a bag prepared for the head of Holofernes. The beheaded man is depicted in the tent- falling. Outside in the centre is a battle of Israelites and Assyrians with cannons depicted in the foreground.

the design here has been sketched out in faint pencil drawings.
Figure 12: the design here has been sketched out in faint pencil drawings.

Folio 211r: Book of Job

This unfinished folio represents the story of Job. He was tested in faith by God. After passing all the temptations, Job is rewarded with more wealth. The historiated letter ‘D’ represents the final stage of his struggles (Figure 13). His body is full of red spots which indicates the disease sent to Job by God. The representation of the devil leaving Job indicates the man’s final victory over the devil and the end of his temptations.

The historiated letter 'D' represents the final stage of his struggles (Figure 13). His body is full of red spots which indicates the disease sent to Job by God. The representation of the devil leaving Job indicates the man’s final victory over the devil and the end of his temptations.
Figure 13: this unfinished folio represents the story of Job.

Folio 222r: Psalms (Figure 14)

The decoration of the Book of Psalms is devoted to its traditional author, King David. It depicts his biography from being a shepherd to becoming King Saul’s favourite after slaying the monster Goliath, enemy of the Israelites.

manuscript page with pencil decoration in margins with partial colour in the illuminated initial and around the top right corner.
Figure 14: The decoration of the Book of Psalms is devoted to its traditional author, King David.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the manuscript illustrates several different books mentioned within the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Judith, Job and finally the Psalms. However, other books included within the manuscript have not been illustrated. This is probably because it would have been too costly to illustrate all the chapters.

However, this still leaves a question on why certain books are illustrated and others are not?

The exact answer is not known. However, it may be argued that some of the depicted stories were frequent subject matter in the Renaissance art, such as Genesis, Judith and Psalms mostly depicting the stories of David (King David). Others like Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Job were less frequently depicted. The choice may have been determined either by the artist (the main figure that would usually be in charge of iconography and style) or more likely the patron, since he was the one commissioning and paying for the work.

            In spite of the artistic grandiosity and the impressive scale of the manuscript, it is incomplete. Even unfinished, however, it communicates the wealth and prosperity of its original owner. Unfortunately, very little is known about the artist and his professional career. For now, I suggest that the reason that the manuscript is unfinished is simply because da Genova moved to Parma to pursue his artistic career. As well as the unfinished decoration, the text of the Bible is also incomplete. Was a second volume also produced? A tempting feature of this manuscript is the fact that its last page includes a catchword – the word that is usually written at the end of a quire to indicate the first word on the following page. It would be included in order to help the binder of a manuscript follow the correct order of leaves. This is a tantalising indication that a second volume might at least have been planned. . Overall, this work placement allowed me to learn about manuscripts, a completely new yet compelling medium for me. The manuscript I studied is under-researched which has surprised me given its impressive scale and exceptional artistic quality.


[1] Ruth Mellinkoff, The Horned Moses in Medieval Art and Thought, (Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers).

Bibliography:

De Floriani, Anna, ‘Michele da Genova, Miniatore: le Tappe di uno Sviluppo’ in Sisto IV e Giulio II mecenati e promotori di cultura, a cura di Silvia Bottaro, Anna Dagnino, Giovanna R. Terminiello, (Savona: Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studi. 1985).

Graham, Alexander, Medieval illuminators and their methods of work (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), Chapter 2.

Gruppo Amici della Storia Locale “Giuseppe Gerosa Brichetto”, ‘I Quaderni del Castello’, Conferenze al Castello di Peschiera Borromeo, Numero 4, Maggio 2013.

Ker, Neil Ripley, Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969–1992).

Mellinkoff, Ruth, The Horned Moses in Medieval Art and Thought, (Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers).

The National Gallery Glossary, ‘All’antica’, The National Gallery, https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/glossary/allantica [accessed 20th March 2021].

Thorp, Nigel, The Glory of the Page: Medieval & Renaissance illuminated manuscripts from Glasgow University Library, (London: Published for Glasgow University Library and the Art Gallery of Ontario by Miller, 1987), pp. 167-8.

Zanelli, Gianluca, ‘Michele da Genova’, Treccani: Dizionario degli Italiani, Vol. 74 (2010).



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