Apr 19, 2010

Partial Leaf from a Latin Bible: Initial I[n principio] with the Marriage at Cana

Partial Leaf from a Latin Bible: Initial I[n principio] with the Marriage at Cana

c. 1260–1270

Ink, tempera, and gold on vellum

Sheet: 42 x 15.3 cm (16 9/16 x 6 in.)

Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1952.565



The illuminator of this initial placed three small scenes one above another to suggest the vertical stem of the initial I, here standing for the introductory passages of the Gospel of Saint John, In principio erat verbum . . . (In the beginning was the word . . .). Such initials have been called "ladder initials" because the individual scenes were arranged one on top of the other to be read in sequence. Each group of figures stands beneath a cusped gable and depicts scenes from the Marriage at Cana. At the top, Christ and the Virgin speak together; at the center, Christ tells the attendant to fill the jars; and below, the banquet proceeds after the miraculous change of water into wine. The present leaf (actually a fragment) comes from a large lectern bible, which probably existed in several volumes because of its size. In the 1100s and 1200s, the large multivolume bible was a standard form used for refectory readings at meals or else kept in a library for reference.

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