Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Winchester Bible at the MMA

The Winchester Bible--parts of it at least--is on exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York:

This exhibition features masterfully illuminated pages from two volumes of the magnificent, lavishly ornamented Winchester Bible. Probably commissioned around 1150 by the wealthy and powerful Henry of Blois (1129–1171), who was the bishop of Winchester (and grandson of William the Conqueror and King Stephen's brother), the manuscript is the Winchester Cathedral's single greatest surviving treasure. Renovations at the Cathedral provide the opportunity for these pages, which feature the Old Testament, to travel to New York. This presentation marks the first time the work will be shown in the United States. At the Metropolitan Museum, the pages of one bound volume will be turned once each month; three unbound bi-folios with lavish initials from the other volume—which is currently undergoing conservation—will be on view simultaneously for the duration of the exhibition.

A highlight of the presentation is the display of an elaborately illustrated double-sided frontispiece—long separated from the Bible and now in the collection of the Morgan Library & Museum in New York—that features scenes from the life of David and Samuel. Works of art from the Metropolitan Museum's own collection—medieval sculpture, goldsmith work, ivories, stained glass, and other examples of manuscript illumination—provide a larger context for the two volumes.

The Winchester Bible consists of four bound volumes whose pages measure approximately 23 inches high by 15 inches wide (58 by 39 centimeters). The text of 468 folios was written over a period of thirty years by a single scribe with at least six different gifted painters applying expensive pigments, including lapis lazuli and gold, to calf-skin parchment. Their ambitious work was never completed.

The rest of the Winchester Bible is not displayed now at Winchester Cathedral, but will return after some renovations in February 2015. The Cathedral's website has gallery of pictures from the Bible here. The single scribe who wrote the text of the Bible was based at the Benedictine Priory of St. Swithun and we can read the history of the priory here, which was founded in 693 by Cenwalh, King of Wessex and dissolved by Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell in September, 1538. According to the BHO entry:

The daily life of these Benedictine monks can be traced from point to point in the large number of Obedientary Rolls of the different officials of the house that still survive of the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. (fn. 45) The obedientaries were monks told off to fulfil certain duties, and to superintend particular parts of the administration of the convent and its property. Their duty at St. Swithun's was essentially connected with the exercise of hospitality; their priory lay in a chief city on one of the most important highways in England, and it was their well sustained boast to keep open house for all comers. In this and in other respects the monks of the cathedral priory of the diocese maintained on the whole an excellent character. The ideal number of monks at which all the large Benedictine houses was supposed to aim was seventy; but this was seldom attained. In 1325, as has been stated, the roll reached to sixty-four; but the priory never recovered from the staggering blow of the Black Death. The numbers, even under the stirring episcopate of Bishop Wykeham, did not exceed forty-six, and at his death were only forty-two. Only once did they subsequently rise, and that by a single figure, the total in 1533 being forty-three. The Obedientary Rolls show that the lowest level was in 1495-6, when the numbers were only twenty-nine.

No comments:

Post a Comment