Judith illuminated

30 Jun

In my view of the world, illumination of text is analogous to a picture book for Biblical scholars. Back In The Day, before the printing press and compulsory education – when only clerics and aristocracy could read – books needed pictures to help convey the story and to justify the expense of the text. It also gave the monks something to do besides … whatever monks did.

“Judith” from the French Bible of Hainburg, 1300-1320, Illumination on parchment, Episcopal Library,Pécs, Hungary

The illumination shown here is somewhat a mystery to me.  It is from the French Bible of Hainburg – which is a central German town – and it is housed in the Episcopal Museum of Pec in Hungary.  I don’t know why there is a French Bible in Germany and a German artifact in Hungary in a museum named after the American version of the Anglican church that doesn’t recognize this apochryphal book – but I do know it has lots of illuminations.

This illumination depicts a medieval king in a draped bedchamber being detached from his head by a very angry woman. From the look of things, he is already dead – since his eyes are closed and he is offering no resistance. It is a gory scene with his wound streaming blood and the sword only halfway through his neck.  But by the determination on her face, Judith will probably complete the task without difficulty in no time.  Good thing she is come attired in a red dress.

The amusing aspect of this scene: what appears to be a little dog looking on as it floats in the right-hand margin. My grandparents had a dog that looked something like that – white with a black spot around one eye. By coincidence, his name was Spot. I have not seen the full page of this illumination, so it is hard to say what is going in the scene next door to this beheading. A hunting party? A circus? A pet show? Or maybe it’s not a dog at all. But if it is, he seems curiously unaffected by gravity but very interested by all the noise.

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Book of Judith, Chapter 7

19 Then the children of Israel cried unto the Lord their God, because their heart failed, for all their enemies had compassed them round about, and there was no way to escape out from among them.
20 Thus all the company of Assur remained about them, both their footmen, chariots, and horsemen, four and thirty days, so that all their vessels of water failed all the inhibitants of Bethulia.
21 And the cisterns were emptied, and they had not water to drink their fill for one day; for they gave them drink by measure.
22 Therefore their young children were out of heart, and their women and young men fainted for thirst, and fell down in the streets of the city, and by the passages of the gates, and there was no longer any strength in them.
23 Then all the people assembled to Ozias, and to the chief of the city, both young men, and women, and children, and cried with a loud voice, and said before all the elders,
24 God be judge between us and you: for ye have done us great injury, in that ye have not required peace of the children of Assur.
25 For now we have no helper: but God hath sold us into their hands, that we should be thrown down before them with thirst and great destruction.
26 Now therefore call them unto you, and deliver the whole city for a spoil to the people of Holofernes, and to all his army.
27 For it is better for us to be made a spoil unto them, than to die for thirst: for we will be his servants, that our souls may live, and not see the death of our infants before our eyes, nor our wives nor our children to die.
28 We take to witness against you the heaven and the earth, and our God and Lord of our fathers, which punisheth us according to our sins and the sins of our fathers, that he do not according as we have said this day.
29 Then there was great weeping with one consent in the midst of the assembly; and they cried unto the Lord God with a loud voice.
30 Then said Ozias to them, Brethren, be of good courage, let us yet endure five days, in the which space the Lord our God may turn his mercy toward us; for he will not forsake us utterly.
31 And if these days pass, and there come no help unto us, I will do according to your word.
32 And he dispersed the people, every one to their own charge; and they went unto the walls and towers of their city, and sent the women and children into their houses: and they were very low brought in the city.

1 Comment

Posted by on June 30, 2011 in Gory


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One response to “Judith illuminated

  1. Gonnagan

    February 16, 2012 at 6:40 am

    This is a strange book, the miniatures are all over the web, but no scan of a full page, or any decent info anywhere. A few tidbits:

    “a central German town”

    There is another Hainburg on the Danube, near what is now the Austrian-Slovak border. Since Slovakia was Hungarian for centuries, the bible might have gotten its name from this one.

    “i don’t know why there is a French Bible in Germany”

    It may well be a Latin bible, French only from its country of origin.

    “and a German artifact in Hungary”

    Books traveled around a lot, just as paintings now often hang in museums far, far from their country of origin.

    “in a museum named after the American version of the Anglican church”

    It isn’t, it’s simply the museum of the episcopal see. Anything connected to a bishop is episcopal.


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