Picture Bible of Manchester

Picture Bible of Manchester – Imago – French MS 5 – John Rylands Library (Manchester, United Kingdom)

France β€” Ca. 1250

Luminous Gothic miniatures on a golden background: a magnificently illuminated picture bible from northern France containing the Old Testament and the story of Jacob

  1. Originating between 1200 and 1250, this a fine specimen of the so-called Channel school in Northern France

  2. It contains 48 full-page miniatures, each depicting a single scene from the first two books of the Old Testament

  3. The Gothic miniatures have Byzantine-style burnished gold backgrounds and captions written in French

Picture Bible of Manchester

Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€
(3,000€ - 7,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Picture Bible of Manchester

The Picture Bible of Manchester is an unusual Gothic picture Bible originating from Northern France in the first half of the 13th century. It contains 48 full-page miniatures, each depicting a single scene from the first two books of the Old Testament with expensive pigments and brilliantly burnished gold leaf backgrounds. It is a true picture Bible consisting purely of full-page miniatures with short captions in French that were only added as an afterthought, perhaps by a later owner. Although the provenance of the manuscript remains unclear, its quality and form point to a wealthy member of the aristocracy and was intended either for their personal use or as a display of their wealth, piety, and sophistication.

Picture Bible of Manchester

So-called picture Bibles, manuscripts whose contents are dominated by imagery rather than text, are among the rarest and most sought-after codices from the Middle Ages. Here we have a small but very fine example of such a work, which consists of 48 full-page miniatures with gold leaf backgrounds in the Byzantine style and captions in French depicting events from Genesis and Exodus: the Picture Bible of Manchester. Produced sometime between 1200 and 1250, it is regarded as a fine specimen of the Gothic style from the so-called Channel school in Northern France. It is stored in the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library under the shelf mark French MS 5. This is an unusual and precious manuscript of the early French Gothic style.

A Costly Commission

Although the exact provenance of the manuscript remains a mystery, its quality, the fact that only one side of the parchment was used, and the richness of the materials – expensive paints and gold leaf – indicate that is must have been the commission of a wealthy nobleman. This manuscript’s format and content preclude the possibility that it was commissioned by a member of the clergy. Its handheld size indicates that it was intended for personal use, but the unusual format consisting solely of full-page miniatures indicates that this was a luxury item intended to display their wealth, piety, and sophistication. It was rebound in the 17th century, at which time some of the manuscript’s content may have been separated from the main body.

An Image-Driven Manuscript

The full-page miniatures are accompanied by captions in French, but they do not appear to have originally been part of the design. Many picture Bibles have text blocks that are distinctly laid out and which are uniformly filled, but the texts in this manuscript were clearly an afterthought and were added after the images were created. While most narrate the events in the miniature, others explain what is happening off the page. Some of these captions may have been added as much as fifty years later by an Italian hand, indicating a change of ownership, but which sometimes mislabeled the miniatures. Furthermore, the selection of single scenes does not point to any one source – some are biblical events while others are only elucidated in various commentaries and glosses. Other scenes are depicted in a way that varies considerably from the way they are described in the Bible. Another unique feature of the Picture Bible of Manchester is the fact that each miniature is focused on a single scene, and takes a much more patient approach to depicting events than other picture Bibles, which usually combine four scenes on a single page. The images trace the events of the Bible from Creation to the Marriage of Moses and Sophora, an unusual place to stop, which indicates that the manuscript is either a fragment or was not completed. It was likely intended to either contain a full Old Testament cycle, or a cycle which incorporated scenes from the New Testament and possibly the lives of saints.


Alternative Titles
Picture Bible of the John Rylands Library
Bilderbibel von Manchester
Bibbia di Manchester
Bible HistoriΓ©e
Size / Format
96 pages / 18.6 Γ— 14.9 cm
Ca. 1250
Gothic Textura Semiquadrata Littera bastarda
48 full-page miniatures on a bright gold background
Scenes from the Book of Genesis and the Book of Exodus with short moralizing descriptions
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Ludwig Rosenthal
Jacques Rosenthal
James Ludovic Lindsay
Enriqueta Augustina Rylands

Available facsimile editions:
Picture Bible of Manchester – Imago – French MS 5 – John Rylands Library (Manchester, United Kingdom)
Imago – Castel Guelfo, 2019
Limited Edition: 499 copies
Detail Picture

Picture Bible of Manchester

Tower of Babel

In the upper portion of the miniature depicting this famous story from the Old Testament we can see some examples of medieval stonemasonry. The figure on the left operates a pulley, bringing up new stones. In the middle, three figures work on the actual construction, one using a medieval level with a weight on a string, another handing up stones, and a third tapping them into place with the handle of his axe. On the right, a man in grey calls down specifying what cuts of stone they need next.

Picture Bible of Manchester – Imago – French MS 5 – John Rylands Library (Manchester, United Kingdom)
Single Page

Picture Bible of Manchester

Fifth Day of Creation

This French Gothic miniature shows God standing before a timeless and spaceless burnished gold leaf background in the Byzantine style. β€œThen God said, β€˜Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens’.” (Gen. 1:20)

Rather than being rigid and upright as in earlier miniatures, the artist depicts God in a more natural pose with one foot sticking out in front of the other as fish swim by (one having caught an eel) and holding a codex – likely the Book of Genesis. God gives the sign of benediction to a blue bird who has landed on a branch next to Him, stretching out its wing and almost touching His halo as though it were curious.

Picture Bible of Manchester – Imago – French MS 5 – John Rylands Library (Manchester, United Kingdom)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Bibbia di Manchester John Rylands Ms. 5

Imago – Castel Guelfo, 2019

Publisher: Imago – Castel Guelfo, 2019
Limited Edition: 499 copies
Binding: Blue velvet
Commentary: 1 volume
Language: Italian
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.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€
(3,000€ - 7,000€)
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