AUSTIN, Texas — “The Crusader Bible: A Gothic Masterpiece,” which will be on view at the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin starting Dec. 12, is an exhibition of more than 40 unbound pages from one of the most celebrated French illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages.
On loan from The Morgan Library & Museum in New York, the Crusader Bible features Old Testament scenes in medieval settings, with brilliantly colored illustrations attributed to seven anonymous artists. To provide historical context for the Bible, the presentation features medieval arms and armor from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Also included are 16th century Persian illustrations from The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the “Ardashīr-nāma,” a 17th century Judeo-Persian manuscript of Old Testament stories from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.
“We are delighted to bring this rare and exquisite manuscript to Austin,” said Blanton director Simone Wicha. “Not only a beautiful work of art, the Crusader Bible has a rich and complex lineage that will engage and immerse our visitors in 700 years of world history. We are grateful to The Morgan Library & Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Jewish Theological Seminary of America for the opportunity to share these treasures.”
The history of the Crusader Bible is fascinating, covering seven centuries and multiple continents.
Probably created in Paris during the 1240s for King Louis IX of France — famous for building the Sainte-Chapelle and for leading two crusades — the Bible then passed to the king’s younger brother, Charles of Anjou, who took it to Italy. More than four centuries later, the Archbishop of Cracow acquired and offered it as a diplomatic gift to the great Shah of Persia, ‘Abbas I. By the 18th century, the manuscript belonged to an anonymous Persian Jew. After its journey from France to Italy, Poland and Persia, the Bible traveled to Egypt, England and finally to The Morgan Library & Museum in the United States.
The Crusader Bible, which originally had no text, bears inscriptions in Latin, Persian and Judeo-Persian. They function as evidence of its changing ownership throughout the centuries and reflect how each owner used his language to lay claim to the book, appropriating its imagery for assimilation into their respective cultures.
The illuminations include some of the most compelling visualizations of the Old Testament, bringing Bible stories to life through vivid images that reflect medieval culture and the world of the Crusades. Designed to resonate with 13th century French viewers, biblical characters are depicted as battling knights, equipped with contemporary arms and armor, and situated within medieval French towns. Loans from the Metropolitan Museum, including a shirt of mail, sword, prick spur and war hat, will augment visitors’ understanding of the weaponry featured in the Crusader Bible.
Alongside the Christian perspective reflected in the Morgan’s manuscript, the exhibition offers Muslim and Jewish viewpoints on biblical narratives, revealed through Persian illustrations of the story of Joseph from the Metropolitan’s collection and in the manuscript of Esther and Ahasuerus from The Jewish Theological Seminary’s “Ardashīr-nāma.” Collectively, the works serve as a powerful reminder of the common roots of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and underscore the complex confluence of the politics, culture and religion of the period.
“The Crusader Bible: A Gothic Masterpiece” is organized by The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. The curator of the exhibition at The Morgan is William Voelkle, Senior Research Curator, Department of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, The Morgan Library & Museum.
Funding for this exhibition at the Blanton is provided by the Scurlock Foundation Exhibition Endowment, Jessica and Jimmy Younger, and donors who contributed to the 2014 Annual Fund. The exhibition will be on view until April 3, 2016.