THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

07 April 2015

A Giant from Our Collections: The Stavelot Bible

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Historiated initial 'I' ('In principio'), at the beginning of Genesis, fully painted and gilded, with roundels containing scenes relating to Genesis and Christ, from the Stavelot Bible, Netherlands, S. (Stavelot), 1094-1097, Add MS 28106, f 6r.

Readers of our blog will know that our manuscripts come in all shapes and sizes, and they vary from Books of Hours so tiny that they can fit in the palm of one’s hand, to enormous tomes that are almost impossible for one person to lift. Each of the two volumes of the Stavelot Bible exceeds the aircraft carry-on limit, with dimensions of 58 x 39cm, and weighing 40 lb, and the whole work takes four people to carry, two for each volume. Fortunately for scholars, bodybuilding is no longer a requirement to look at this manuscript as it has now been fully digitised and is available online as Add MS 28106 and Add MS 28107.

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Canon tables, from the Stavelot Bible, Add MS 28107, f 139v

The writing, decoration and binding of this monumental Bible, made for the Benedictine abbey of Stavelot, near Liège, southern Netherlands, took four years to complete, and was finished in 1097.

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Illuminated initial at the beginning of the Book of Samuel, showing the Amakelite bearing the crown of the dead Saul into David’s camp (below), then presenting Saul’s insignia to David (middle) and the executioner holding up the severed head of the Amakelite over his twisted body (above), from the Stavelot Bible, Add MS 28106, f 109r

Two monks involved in its production, Godderan and Ernesto, are identified in an inscription, although their roles are not specified: Godderan may have been the sole scribe, and Ernesto one of the artists. Its great size and legibility of script indicates that it would have been the principal Bible of the abbey, possibly used for daily services or for display on the high altar.

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‘ET’ at the beginning of the Book of Joshua, with (above) the hand of God coming down to Joshua, shown from the back, in a pose characteristic of the Stavelot artist, and (below) Joshua addressing three followers, from the Stavelot Bible, Add MS 28106, f 75v

This image, which appears before the beginning of the New Testament, is one of the great monuments of early Romanesque art. It shows Christ in Majesty, holding a book and a Greek cross, with the globe of the earth under his feet, surrounded by the symbols of the Four Evangelists.

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Christ in Majesty, from the Stavelot Bible, Add MS 28107, f 136r

The two volumes of the Stavelot Bible contain 45 historiated initials in all.  Unfortunately in some places initials have been cut out and blank spaces remain.

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Text page with missing image from the Stavelot Bible, Add MS 28106, f 144v

Not all initials are historiated. In this masterful composition from the beginning of the Liber Generationis in Matthew’s Gospel, the shape follows the outlines of the letter ‘L’ and animal and human forms struggle to escape from the swirling vines. 

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Decorated initial ‘L’(iber) at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, from the Stavelot Bible, Add MS 28107, f 142v

 - Chantry Westwell

Comments

I'm sorry but Stavelot is clearly not in the netherlands. It's in wallonie, the south of Belgium in the province of Liège.


RESPONSE:
Thank you for your comment. Our practice in cataloguing is to refer to regions (e.g. Northern and Southern Netherlands) which do not necessarily correspond with modern countries.

Stavelot was an independant Principality near Liège

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