From The Koninklijke Bibliotheek

One of the most impressive achievements of Dutch manuscript painting is no doubt the creation of a continuous cycle of illustrations for the Bible translation known as the Dutch History Bible. The text itself is a compilation from translations by the "translator of 1360", probably a monk from Belgium's Brabant region, and Johannes Scutken, a monastic from the Devotio moderna circles.

The biblical narrative is complemented by stories from secular history, while difficult passages are explained by means of sections from Jacob van Maerlant's Rhime Bible - usually outlined in red in the manuscripts. This adaptation met with considerable success, especially in the Northern Netherlands: some twenty copies - complete or in part - are still known, most of them made in Utrecht and dating from between 1430 and 1478. The two-volume History Bible belonging to the Koninklijke Bibliotheek is the most abundantly illustrated copy in existence. It contains as many as 69 historiated initials (large illustrated initials at the head of each page) at the beginning of the individual books, and 509 small miniatures within the text.

History Bible. Utrecht, c. 1430. Vellum, 2 vols, 291+298 leaves, 400 x 302 mm. Provenance: purchased by King William I and placed in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, 1829.

The illumination was executed by eight artists, six of whom undertook the greater of the work. The history of Samson was painted by the Master of Otto van Moerdrecht, who executed 136 miniatures for the books beginning with the book of Joshua. His style is characterized by bright colors and small, doll-like figures, moving about in an undulating landscape with jagged rocks, and always a stream in the foreground.
This miniature shows Samson carrying the doors of the gate of Gaza on his back.
Delilah is cutting Samson's hair, the source of his strength.

Another important aspect of the Bible are the instructions for the painters, which are often found in the margin, thus giving us an insight into the artistic practice of the illustration. In the case of the Master of Otto van Moerdrecht these instructions were written on the place where the miniatures were to be painted. Part of the upper line is still visible at the top edge of the miniature on this page.




Bible of
the Poor




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