Ashburnham Pentateuch

Ashburnham Pentateuch Facsimile Edition

North Africa, Italy or Spain — 5th – middle of the 8th century

The oldest surviving illustrated Bible: a 5th century masterpiece of unparalleled historical value

  1. The oldest Latin translation of the Bible is also the oldest surviving illuminated Bible

  2. The manuscript possibly originated as a gift for the Emperor Valentinian III (419–455)

  3. The mysterious provenance has helped make it a valued collector’s item over the centuries

Ashburnham Pentateuch

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Ashburnham Pentateuch

The importance of the manuscript, which is known today under the titles of Ashburnham Pentateuch or the Bible of Tours, as the oldest Latin translation of the Bible cannot be over stressed. Its standing as an important early medieval manuscript from the Occident is highlighted through its spectacular miniatures. Allegedly, the manuscript was made under the patronage of Princess Galla Placidia as a gift for her son, the later Emperor Valentinian III. It was finished during the 5th to 8th centuries.

Ashburnham Pentateuch – The Bible of Tours

The importance of the manuscript, which is known today under the titles of Ashburnham Pentateuch or the Bible of Tours, as the oldest Latin translation of the Bible cannot be over stressed. Its standing as an important early medieval manuscript from the Occident is highlighted through its spectacular miniatures. Allegedly, the manuscript was made under the patronage of Princess Galla Placidia as a gift for her son, the later Emperor Valentinian III. It was finished during the 5th to 8th centuries.

A Biblical Textbook for the Future Emperor

In 284 pages, the manuscript unfurls the story of the so-called Book of Deuteronomy out of the Old Testament. In total, 19 whole-page miniatures and 11 canonized boards are evidence of the grandness of book decoration, which originally could have had even more extensive art. Through research, many have assumed that the Ashburnham Pentateuch originated in North Africa or Spain, while others have alleged that it originated from an imperial Scriptorium in Rome. The Patron for this important manuscript was almost certainly Galla Placidia (around 390-450), who was the West Roman Princess and mother to the future Emperor Valentinian. She served as her son’s representative as Regent of the Western Roman Empire for a few years. The script with biblical content was utilized for the education of the future Emperor and served as an entertaining and educationally rich way to instruct him in the basics of religion.

Distinguished Miniatures

The convincing illustrations of biblical stories are a special feature of the Bible of Tours. Wonderful whole-page miniatures show parts of consecutive scenes. In a subtle way, the fratricidal story of Cain and Abel is told on one side of the pages. More frames — whether in an architectural or natural area — are artfully interwoven. True dream landscapes with masses of people and animal figures in the most beautiful colors — like light purple, orange, or deep blue — stand before your eyes. The miniature of the deluge is especially impressive, which appears very modern in its simplicity and colorfulness. Be it water or desert, city or palace, palm trees or green hills, one simply cannot get enough of the inspiring creativity of the miniatures. The picture frames are populated with herds of camels, lions, and many other animals and people in uncountable poses and costumes.

Eventful History and Important Names

An exciting history of ownership is inextricably linked with the manuscript. It appeared first in the possession of the Cloisters of St. Martin in Tours, which was kept more specifically in the Cathedral of St. Gatianus. In the 19th century, the so-named Bible of Tours was suddenly stolen from its longtime home, and reappeared when it was sold to the Duke of Ashburnham, at which point it was renamed after its new owner. In 1888, the Bible of Tours ended up in the National Library of France, where it is still retained today. Its importance to both History and Art History as the first Latin translation and the first illustrated Bible in the history of manuscript art makes the Ashburnham Pentateuch a desirable collector’s piece and an artifact of huge significance.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Biblia de Tours
Tours Pentateuch
Bible de Tours
Bibbia di Tours
Bíblia de Tours
Bibel von Tours
Size / Format
284 pages / 37.1 × 32.1 cm
Origin
Italy
Date
5th – middle of the 8th century
Language
Script
Gothic Quadrata Rustic Romanesque capitals
Illustrations
19 full-page miniatures, 11 splendid canon tables and initials
Patron
Probably Princess Galla Placidia for her son Emperor Valentinian III
Previous Owners
Monastery of St. Martin in Tours, Duke of Ashburnham

Available facsimile editions:
Ashburnham Pentateuch – Ms. Nouv. acq. lat. 2334 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris, France) Facsimile Edition
Patrimonio Ediciones – Valencia, 2003
Limited Edition: 999 copies
Detail Picture

Ashburnham Pentateuch

Noah’s Ark

Rather than a great ship, Noah’s Ark is depicted as a great chest or box in the tradition of Rabbinic literature. Accounts vary as to the type of bird used by Noah to find land, but the artist has split the difference and shows both the raven, which was initially dispatched, and the dove, which in the Christian tradition returned with an olive branch in its beak as a sign of peace and salvation. The artist has condensed the image by showing the animals already disembarking from the Ark.

Biblia de Tours
Single Page

Ashburnham Pentateuch

Cain and Abel

In the Book of Genesis, Cain and Abel are the first two sons of Adam and Eve, the first was a farmer and the latter a shepherd. Both brothers made sacrifices, but God favored Abel’s sacrifice over that of his older brother. Cain then murders Abel in a jealous rage, thus making him the first murderer and his brother the first murder victim. God then punishes Cain by condemning him to a life of wandering.

The story of the two brothers is depicted in three phases, each identifiable by a different background color: in the red upper register, both brothers present their sacrifices; in the green middle register, God warns Cain against being angry; in the purple bottom register, Cain is shown murdering Abel with a farm tool, possibly a hoe.

Biblia de Tours
Facsimile Editions

#1 Biblia de Tours

Patrimonio Ediciones – Valencia, 2003

Publisher: Patrimonio Ediciones – Valencia, 2003
Limited Edition: 999 copies
Binding: Wood with goatskin and fire-engraved in gold
Commentary: 1 volume (306 pages) by Bezalel Narkiss
Languages: Spanish, English, German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€€ (3,000€ - 7,000€)
Edition available
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