Decoration

290r

Portrait of the author Josephus Flavius

The Devil’s Bible incorporates Josephus’ two books on the history of the Jews, translated into Latin, namely Antiquitates Iudaicae and Bellum Iudaicum. The first and longer of these begins on f. 118r which, quite appropriately, has also been made to include the author’s portrait. The entire left-hand column of this sheet is occupied by the end of the Old Testament, namely the concluding lines of the Second Book of Maccabees. The very last line, in Latin, reads: Explicit Liber secundus Maccabeorum, i.e. ‘(Here) endeth the Second Book of Maccabees’. The whole of the right-hand column on this page, unlike the left, is written in red, indicating that it is a prologue to the next book of the Codex, namely Josephus’ The Antiquities of the Jews. The prologue begins with a very large capital H, in Hystoria scribere disponentibus, i.e. ‘Those who undertake to write history . . .’

Scholars hitherto have shown little interest in the portrait of Josephus. Carl Nordenfalk (1975, p. 285), dismissed it as ‘a rather amateurish looking representation of Josephus in the margin at the beginning of his Antiquitates’. The portrait is positioned in the outer margin right at the top of the page and occupies less than half the column height. The hat and head are on a level with the words of the heading ‘Those who undertake to write histories . . .’ which, of course, is exactly what the author is doing in this book and the next one after it. He is shown in fully frontal pose, holding, at an angle in his right hand, what must be a book. This picture is painted in three of the five colours used in Codex Gigas: white for Josephus’ hat and long beard, and for the book he is holding, yellow for his ankle-length coat, and green for his mantle. The picture is damaged at the bottom, and where the feet should be there is a round green shape which has soaked through from the picture of the Earth on the verso. The usual blackish-brown ink has been used for outlines in and around the beard, head and hat, e.g. for the mouth and nose. These have been painted straight onto the parchment, which in itself is very near skin colour.

What do the figure’s attributes stand for? The book in his hand tells us that he is an author. He is also depicted like this in earlier representations, such as a twelfth-century manuscript of his Jewish War, which shows him with flowing white hair and beard, standing and holding the book, just as in our picture, except that the book there is opened, because he is dictating from it to his scribe (de Hamel 1992, fig. 1). The conical white hat in our picture shows that he is Jewish, because pointed white hats like this were worn by Jews in medieval Europe as their main distinguishing characteristic, and in several continental cities ghetto inhabitants were compelled to wear special clothing (Schachar).

Author portraits are among the commonest types of illustration in medieval book illumination. The oldest extant is in a famous sixth-century purple codex in the South Italian city of Rossano and shows Mark sitting and writing down his Gospel, dictated to him by Mary, on a papyrus scroll. Ever since then it had become very common for each of the four Gospels to open with a picture of its author. The evangelists are most often seen working at their desks, but almost as often the evangelist is shown seated or standing, with the finished Gospel in his hand. Both ways of depicting them are to be seen in a succession of illuminated manuscripts from eighth century Ireland and England, such as the portrait of St John the Evangelist in Codex aureus, which is the second world-famous manuscript in the National Library in Stockholm (MS A 135, f. 150v). This last mentioned type of picture is a parallel to our author portrait, which may indeed have been modelled on it. Pictures of Old Testament authors—the Prophets—are less common. We would like to know why none of the biblical authors has been portrayed in Codex Gigas.

There are also other portraits of authors, scribes and book illuminators, both monks and laymen (de Hamel 1992 and Gullick 2006). There is a fine specimen in a twelfth-century German legendary, showing Brother Rufillus seated right inside the large initial R which he is in the process of painting (Geneva, Biblioteca Bodmeriana, Cod. 127, f. 244r, see Egbert, pl. 6 and Svanberg, figs. 80 and 79 respectively). This is somewhat earlier than Codex Gigas, and so too are the perhaps most famous Romanesque portraits of an author, a scribe and a book illuminator and his apprentice. These are in a collectar from Moravia in the Czech Republic, bordering on the territory where Codex Gigas originated and, like Codex Gigas, captured by the Swedes in Prague and eventually deposited in the Royal Library in Stockholm (MS A 144). The collectar has just one full-page illustration, beautifully framed, showing the Pope Gregory, one of the Church Fathers, in authorship pose. Gregory’s inspiration comes to him from the dove of the Holy Spirit, prompting his dictation to the scribe who is hard at work in the bottom right-hand corner. People standing round them include bishops, monks and a duke, the most exalted with initials provided, so that we can tell who they are. Depicted in the margin beneath this miniature are not only the scribe, a Benedictine monk—with the initial R—and the secular painter—initial H—but also the painter’s apprentice Everwine (A 144, f. 34v). These two last mentioned have also included their self-portraits in a manuscript, still in Prague, containing Augustine’s famous De civitate Dei—The City of God. This time they figure, not in a margin but as the main subject of the book’s one and only illustration (Prague, Metropolitan Library A. XXI. I. f. 153r): Everwine is sitting on a stool at his master’s feet, painting a trailing vine, while Hildebert, seated at his artfully constructed writing desk, turns round to throw a sponge at a mouse which has jumped up onto his dining table (de Hamel 1992, fig. 53, Svanberg, p. 87 with fig. 78).

So books both contemporary with and older than Codex Gigas offer plenty of pictures of authors – including Josephus himself in that role (Portrait of Josephus Flavius, open in new window.) (Deutsch, figs. 3-10) – and of scribes and illuminators. But why has the maker of our book selected Josephus for his only picture of this kind, with the Giant Codex containing works by so many other authors, both biblical and medical? This probably has to do with the character of the Devil’s Bible as a work of history, a point specially highlighted by Anna Wolodarski and strongly corroborated by the positioning of Josephus’ two historical works right in the middle of the codex, immediately after the Old Testament and preceding Isidore of Seville, the medical writings and the New Testament. Probably, then, it is Josephus’ central position in the Giant Codex, both literally speaking and in a profounder sense, which has made that he is the only author being portrayed in the whole book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 135, f. 150v. Johannes

 

 

 

 

 

A_144_C_fol_34v

 
A XXI, bl. 153r

Pictures of Heaven and Earth

The paired pictures of Heaven and Earth, which again have received previously little attention, are on the verso of the sheet whose recto carries the picture of the author. In other words, it is painted on f. 118v, and, as we noted earlier, the green of the Earth has soaked through the parchment and is discernible at Josephus’ feet. These two pictures also come at the top of a wide outer margin, with the blue Heaven uppermost. Heaven is painted next to the prologue, written in red, which thus continues here from the previous page and occupies the top quarter of the outer column. This is followed by the opening words of the first chapter, written in ordinary black ink and continuing through the rest of the outer column and the whole of the inside one. The opening words in red are In principio, but the opening I is missing; it would have been red, large and placed in the margin. Or did the rubricator leave it for the illuminator later to enclose the two roundels in a large initial letter decorated with trailing vines (Nordenfalk 1987, n 28)? In that case the upper roundel would no doubt have formed the dot over the i.

In principio is followed by creavit deus celum et terram in text-script, i.e. ‘In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth’ (Genesis 1:1). These, then, are the opening words of the Bible with which Josephus’ history of the Jews also begins, and they are illustrated, in the outside margin, by the two images of the newly created Heaven and Earth. In other Romanesque manuscripts containing Josephus’ story of the Creation, the six days work is shown in the way commonly used in contemporary Bibles, namely six roundels with God performing each day’s act of creation (Deutsch, figs. 21-4).

Uppermost, quite rightly, we have the deep blue circle of Heaven with the sun, the crescent moon and a host of stars on it. God created the Heaven on the second day, adding the sun, moon and stars to it on the fourth, according to Genesis, verses 7-8 and 16-17 respectively. The yellowish tinge obscuring the centre of Heaven has unfortunately seeped through from the picture of Josephus on the recto. Heaven and Earth are shown equidistant above and below the opening words in red.

A dozen or so trees are scattered over the Earth’s green roundel. They are all painted in white , with a higher trunk in the middle and a shorter branch curving outwards from each side of the root. For on the third day God said: ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so’. The picture of the Earth, then, is based on Genesis 1:11, which Josephus lifted over with the whole biblical narrative of creation and which comes in the text immediately inside this marginal illustration. But Josephus corrects Moses concerning one of the days of Creation, though none of those mentioned here.

The green Earth is surrounded by a contour drawn in black ink, and there are no visible traces of compasses having been used for this or for the corresponding contour round the blue Heaven. There is no shading that might have suggested that the Earth was a sphere reproduced here on a flat surface. Instead the Earth resembles a flat disc. The ancients knew that the world was spherical, and the concept lived on in medieval times, e.g. in the orb of the Holy Roman Emperors, which is a globe with the three then known continents marked on it and surmounted by a cross, to make clear that the world sovereignty of the ancient Roman Emperors had now been Christianised as ‘the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation’. So we cannot tell from the picture whether the artist knew—and he may very well have done— that the earth was a sphere. Nor has the artist used any shading to suggest that the firmament was perceived as a vault or arch.

Heavenly Jerusalem and the Devil

Codex Gigas has only two full-page pictures, and they come at the end, namely a city on the verso of f. 289 and the Devil on the recto of f. 290, i.e. on two facing pages forming a spread. They come after the end of the New Testament a few leaves earlier (f. 286r) and immediately after a confession of sins on the six intervening dark-painted pages (i.e. ff. 286v-289r), which we shall be returning to presently. Both pictures cover the entire page area originally ruled for writing, i.e. 41 x 77 cm, but do not extend into the margins.

Let us start with the city picture on the left. On both sides the city is delimited by two very tall yellow towers topped by projecting green, crenelated platforms. At the bottom the two towers stand on a single high foundation wall painted the same shade of yellow as they are. This foundation wall extends beneath the entire city, projecting a little way beyond each of the corner towers. The projecting masonry supports on each side a lofty apse which projects from the tower and has a red tiled roof, and outside this is a smaller apse with the same kind of roof as the larger one. Above the foundation the two tall corner towers are linked by a red crenelated city wall, fortified on the outside with two green towers and a  taller yellow one in the middle. Each of these towers is topped by a projecting, crenelated archer platform painted a contrasting colour. Many towered buildings inside the city are visible above the city wall. A second part of the crenelated city wall runs in front of the whole city, immediately above the pointed tower caps of these buildings. This second length of wall, however, is not reinforced by any towers of its own, but above it, inside the city, can be seen numbers of many-towered buildings, reaching all the way up to the third stretch of the city wall, which, like the first, is reinforced with three towers. Here, though, the central tower, up on the wall, is green and the two side towers yellow. And so it continues upwards, with another seven stretches of the red crenelated city wall. There are no fewer than ten such stretches altogether, one on top of the other.

Only the second and fourth stretches have no towers of their own. All the others have one, two or three tall, narrow towers each.  Most of the towers have small round-arched openings at the top, and all of them are surmounted by a cantilevered, turreted platform from which archers can defend the city. For variety, six of the towers are green and the same number yellow, while the two uppermost lengths of wall are flanked by six blue towers with red platforms on top. The very uppermost stretch of wall also has a seventh brown tower in the middle. This makes no fewer than nineteen towers altogether for the ten walls between the two tall corner towers (which bring the grand total to twenty-one). All these towers, then, are turreted and thus serve to defend the city, as well as the stretches of the crenelated encircling wall which they reinforce.

Clearly, then, the city is laid out with great regularity. Here the artist has been aided by the ruled lines on this and all the book’s other leaves when they were prepared for writing. Thus he has taken the outlines of the tall corner towers from the verticals of the margins. And the ten walls, with equal spaces in between, have been laid on the horizontal lines previously scribed for writing on. It is easy to see that each wall is four lines high, with its turrets occupying a fifth.

Behind all stretches of wall except the uppermost, the buildings of the city project above the turrets. These buildings vary in shape but have striking profusion of towers, surmounted, this time not by defensive turrets but by tower caps. And so many of the buildings which stick up are churches, presenting either the ‘west work’ (Westwerk) typical of the German Romanesque—that is to say, a wider central tower with a narrower side tower to each side of it—or else the side of a church flanked by east and west towers, which again is typical of German ecclesiastical architecture of the Romanesque.

Six pairs of beautifully curved plant tendrils are visible above the wall: a couple of green ones each on the fifth and ninth stretches of wall, and two red ones on the sixth. Projecting above the city wall we see what are perhaps stylised tree tops. But there is not a human being in sight. The citizens, presumably, are down on the streets and ground inside the high walls, or else inside the many churches and other buildings and consequently invisible from outside.

This regularly laid-out and well-fortified city with its many churches has been construed as the Heavenly Jerusalem mentioned in the penultimate chapter of Revelation: ‘And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband’ (Rev. 21:2). Further on there comes a description of the city: ‘And [it] had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates’ (verse 12), The city was built in a square and its length, breadth and height were all equal, as noted by the angel with the golden measuring stick. The city wall was of jasper and had twelve foundation stones, ‘garnished with all manner of precious stones’ (Rev. 21:14-19). The wall and its colour—jasper is reddish yellow—are all that tally here with the city pictured in Codex Gigas. If the nineteen towers on the wall of the Codex city are thought of as gate towers, although no gates are marked in them, their number does not tally with the twelve on the Revelation wall (and Revelation says in so many words that the number of towers corresponds to the Twelve Tribes of Israel). John is not only the author of the Book of Revelation—and, accordingly, of the vision quoted here—he is also the Fourth Evangelist, and as such quotes Jesus as saying: ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions’ (John 14:2). This is what the many buildings visible above the city wall in the Codex Gigas picture allude to (Nordenfalk 1987, p. 285).

Next to the Bible, the most important book for the medieval idea of the world was Augustine’s De Civitate Dei (City of God), which expounds the fundamental importance of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Augustine tells us that from the beginning of time there were two cities. One of them was the Heavenly City, the home of angels and the righteous—Paradise, in other words—and the other, built by Lucifer and his fallen angels, was Hell.

A picture of the Heavenly Jerusalem originating in the same country and half-century as the Devil’s Bible is therefore of particular interest for our purposes, and we have just such a picture in a copy of Augustine’s De Civitate Dei written at the end of the twelfth century and now in the Prague Cathedral Chapter Library (Metropolitan Library A VII., f. 1v). The two tall, narrow corner towers framing the picture at the sides are a point of similarity, but between them here we see only two stretches of wall enclosing the city, one at the bottom and the other at the top, both fortified with several smaller towers, as in our picture. The big difference is that instead of buildings within the city the Prague picture shows Christ enthroned, surrounded by angels and two rows of saints, plus, at the very bottom, four citizens of Prague still living at the time: a bishop, a monk and a married couple. The text band they are holding declares their hope of entering after death into the Heavenly Jerusalem. But there are other Romanesque pictures of the Heavenly Jerusalem which, like that in our Bible, do not show any inhabitants at all, though the architectural representation in them is less similar to that in our picture (Nordenfalk 1975, figs. 5-6, and Klemm, p. 62 and pl. 160).

Opposite the Giant Bible’s picture of a city on the left-hand page we have, on the right-hand page, a representation of the Devil (f. 290r). So the only full-page illustrations in our book occupy one and the same opening. They are also identically framed. For the Devil is seated between two yellow towers with projecting green platforms at the top, just as in the preceding picture. The towers are as narrow and tall as in that picture and the spacing between them is also the same, because their contours follow the lines originally scribed to mark the intended margins on this page as well. (Here, incidentally, the guidelines scribed for what was originally intended to be a written page are even more clearly visible than in the preceding picture. Here again, the towers stand on a yellow foundation wall with apses projections extending a little way beyond the towers on both sides. But the apses in this picture are roofless, and they also lack the outer apse in the preceding picture. The obvious conclusion that has been rightly drawn from these similarities is that the Devil too is in a city—his own city, namely Hell. As noted earlier, this city, built by Lucifer and his fallen angels, was contrasted with the Heavenly City of the angels and the righteous ones, in Augustine’s De Civitate Dei¸ itself the very foundation of the dualistic idea of the world in the Middle Ages. He envisaged the entire history of the world as a contest between these two—between the City of God and the city of the Devil.

So the two juxtaposed full-page illustrations form a pair, just like the marginal pictures, already described, of Heaven and Earth on the verso of f. 118. Those pictures showed the newly created physical Heaven and Earth, while here the celestial abode of the blessed is juxtaposed with Hell. And, in contrast to the many buildings inside the former, the city of Hell is a desolate place, empty but for its mighty ruler.

Let us now take a closer look at the picture of the Devil himself, which is something like half a metre in height. He is shown quite frontally, crouching with arms uplifted—a posture creating a dynamic effect, as if at any moment he could jump up to seize a new victim in his claws. His size is terrifying in itself—here he alone fills the entire space of Hell, even though he does not reach up to the tops of the towers. He is naked except for a white loincloth covered all over in small comma-shaped red dashes which have been interpreted as the tails of ermine furs, the distinguishing attribute of a sovereign, in this particular case the Prince of Darkness, a mighty potentate. He has no tail, and his body, arms and legs are of normal human proportions, but his hands and feet – with only four fingers and toes each, terminating in large claws, are bestial, as are his huge horns, which, like all his claws, are red as though dipped in blood. He has a large, perfectly round, dark green head, the colour of which reminds us of the deadly sin of envy, and his hair forms, as it were, a skull cap of dense little curls. His eyes are small, with red pupils, which gives him a vicious glare, and his red-tipped ears are large, enabling him to pick up all the gossip and slander entitling him to the souls of the calumniators. His open, leering mouth reveals his small white teeth, and two long red tongues flicker from the corners of his mouth. This doubling of tongues evokes negative associations with serpents, which have forked tongues, and false, double-tongued human beings. The expression ‘forked tongues’ is an ancient one already to be found in the Bible (Nordenfalk 1975, n. 15).

Romanesque art most often depicts the Devil as shown in Giant Bible, viz with a human body having neither projections nor deformities, unless the feet, and sometimes the hands too, are equipped with claws. What is inhuman and terrifying about such pictures of the Devil is his outsized head with its wisps of hair and, sometimes, horns, staring eyes and distorted mouth, often with lip retracted and teeth revealed (Link, figs. 4, 12 and 30). In certain French reliefs the physique and extremities of devils are extremely emaciated, as for example in Gislebertus’s great portrayal in Autun Cathedral of the Last Judgement, executed c. 1130 (Link, figs. 46-7). In early Gothic art as well, the Devil retains his human body while the head remains horned and variously intimidating, as for example in the Baptistery mosaic in Florence, which we shall be taking a closer look at presently, and Giotto’s fresco in the Arena Chapel, Padua. It is only in later Gothic art that the Devil acquires a tail and bat wings (see Levron, figs. 9 and 37).

The crouching posture of the Devil in Codex Gigas is unusual but not unparalleled, as witness, for example, a figural initial in an eleventh century Dublin manuscript of the Dialogues of Gregory the Great (Nordenfalk 1975, fig. 4). There, however, his crouching posture is prompted by his hands and head supporting an initial O, inside which we see a dead person rising out of the grave—and thus about to be carried off to Hell by the Devil. Over a hundred and fifty years ago, the extravagant hypothesis was propounded that the crouching posture of the Devil in our Bible displayed ‘oriental traits, [and was] a transformation above all of the dancing gods of India’ (Josef Pečirka, cited in Lindberg, p. 13). But no such pictorial evidence predating or contemporary with Codex Gigas has been found in India to substantiate this contention.

Instead Nordenfalk, in his last article on the Giant Codex, put forward another hypothesis concerning the inspiration for our Devil’s crouching posture (Nordenfalk 1987, pp. 427-31). In that article he draws attention to the medical treatises included in the Devil’s Bible. All of them—we now know—were the work of the famous Arab physician Hunain Ibn Ishaq. One of them, in turn, is a summary of Galen’s short treatise on the human body and its disorders, which was translated into Latin in the eleventh century, probably by a Monte Cassino lay brother called Constantinus Africanus. ‘Another medical text, again ultimately traceable back to Galen, is the commentary on a series of anatomical drawings of the internal organs of the human body, applied one after another to the image of a nude crouching manikin—one for the arteries, one for the veins, one for the nerves, one for the skeleton and one for the muscles: the so-called Five-Picture Series. This is first identifiable in a pictorial compendium’ from 1161 (Nordenfalk 1987, pp. 427-8) which originated in the South German monastery of Prüfening and is now in Bayrische Staatsbibliothek, Munich, Clm. 13002 (Klemm, p. 62 and pl. 157). The same series turns up later in Persia (Brandenburg, illus. 1-5 and 91-3) and in several places in England and Italy. It also reached Bohemia, as witness a manuscript in the castle library of Roudnice (Germ. Raudnitz), now in Prague, Universitätsbibliothek cod. VI Fc. 29 (Nordenfalk 1987, p. 428). The compendium containing this picture series is not included in our Giant Bible, but its Devil is undeniably very similar to the human figure in the anatomical Five-Picture Series as regards both the crouching posture and the circular shape and exaggerated size of the head. ‘The simplest explanation is that the Devil in the Stockholm picture was modelled on one of the medieval copies of the Five-Picture Series, presumably in that case the prototype of the illustrations in the Raudnitz manuscript’ (Nordenfalk 1975, p. 428 and fig. 2).

The ‘manikin’ of the Five-Picture Series may have been a vital source of inspiration, but we should observe that it holds its arms downwards, with its hands against its thighs, whereas our Devil holds them upstretched, claws ready to grasp. But there is a Persian manuscript in which the Five-Picture Series has been augmented with a sixth, showing a pregnant woman whose arms are stretched outwards and upwards just like our Devil’s. Several medieval Five-Picture Series and several images of the pregnant woman crouching with her arms uplifted are reproduced in modern works of medical history (e.g. in Meyer-Steineg, pls. 120-5). Nordenfalk too mentioned ‘free-standing pictures of the pregnant woman crouching’, also from Latin manuscripts, including one from the Royal Library in Copenhagen (Nordenfalk 1987, pp. 429-30). This type of anatomical female image, widespread in both time and space, occurs for example in the Wellcome Apocalypse, a German manuscript of the 1420s which originated in a monastic milieu, probably in Thuringia in the eastern part of central Germany  (London, Wellcome Institute, Western MS. 49 f. 38r). But there are also other crouching figures with arms raised, such as the central figure in a depiction of the year in a manuscript dating from around 1140 in the monastery of Zwiefalten in Würtemberg (Würtembergische Landesbibliothek Cod. Hist. Fol. 415, f. 17v). Surrounded by two concentric circles, the innermost showing the signs of the Zodiac and the outer one the pictures of the months, there stands a central figure designated Annus, i.e. the Year. Half-naked, crouching with arms raised, and holding the sun and moon, he strikes a posture similar to that of our Devil.

Close similarities to the Codex Gigas Devil are to be seen in a monumental image of the Devil dating from exactly the same time as our giant Bible and included in the Baptistery mosaic (1202-1226) of Florence Cathedral (Marchini, pp. 24-5). That representation, it is true, shows Satan in the midst of the Inferno, surrounded by numerous minor devils and lost souls. His body is even more human than that of our Devil, for he has the full complement of fingers and toes and no claws. But he does have stout horns on his large head, just as in our Bible. In the mosaic representation, serpents are crawling out of his pointed ears to devour sinners. He has a loincloth, but of cloth, not ermine as shown in our picture. His legs are bent in roughly the same way as in the Devil’s Bible, but in the Florentine mosaic this is not because he is crouching but because he is seated on a serpent throne with his legs bent outwards to either side of his body. His arms are not lowered as in the Five-Picture Series, nor are they flexed as in our picture. Instead the mosaic devil’s arms are extended on each side to grab hold of sinners whom he will then devour—one is halfway into his mouth already.

Nordenfalk relates the Codex Gigas picture of the Devil and the picture facing it to the text immediately preceding them. Directly after the end of the New Testament and immediately preceding the picture spread showing the Heavenly Jerusalem and the Devil in Hell, our Bible  has five pages (ff. 286v-288v) coloured with a grim, dark colour as if ‘clad in sackcloth and ashes’ and containing one long confession of sins. It is written by ‘a guilt-ridden soul who in sentence after sentence accuses himself of every conceivable shortcoming and misdeed—right from his birth and baptism to the time of writing. This list includes omissions and forgetfulness in the performance of his ecclesiastical duties, gossip, evil thoughts, quarrelsomeness, wrath, indolence, injustice, over-indulgence in food and drink, all kinds of fleshly lusts, bestiality — “except with dogs”, it says—etc., etc.’ (Nordenfalk 1987, p. 290). This, then, is a highly personal confession.

It is positioned in the manuscript in such a way that it opens onto the two full-page pictures of the Heavenly Jerusalem and its opposite pole, Hell, ‘the former constituting the harbour which a penitent sinner hoped to reach and the other constituting the principal enemy of that destination. And just as the Devil is the sole living being in the two full-page pictures, so the preceding text of the confession is wholly dominated by his snares and temptations’ (Nordenfalk 1975, p. 291).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talfel IX (München, Clm 13002, Böeckler Abb. 13)

Talfel X (München, Clm 13002, Böeckler Abb. 14)

Initial letters

The Devil’s Bible contains fifty-seven initial letters decorated with trailing vines and painted in several colours. They mark the beginning of each of the books of the Bible and also the beginning of the Chronicle of Cosmas at the end of the giant volume. Presumably the first book of the Bible also began with an initial of this kind on the now missing very first leaf. The reason for the Chronicle of Cosmas being distinguished by an ornamental letter of this kind otherwise reserved for the books of the Bible is that Cosmas of Prague’s Chronicle of Bohemia was the first of its kind and thus a manifestation of national pride. Apart from these polychrome trailing-vine initials there are twenty arabesque initials painted in two colours only, namely blue letters with red trailing vines, painted straight onto the parchment, without any differently coloured background (cf. Alexander, Scribes, pl. 11 ff.). In our book these arabesques start with the work by Isidore of Seville, continuing up to and including the beginning of the New Testament.

The polychrome initials decorated with trailing vine motifs vary a good deal in size. The smallest measures 16 x 20 cm and the largest ones, measuring up to 24 x 78 cm, can fill up the enormous page almost completely. Only the individual person simultaneously planning both the graphic design of the book and its artistic embellishments could have achieved such uniformity. The decorative opening word or words painted in red form, together with the initial, an indissoluble combination of two components, namely the capital letter and the decoration. And the fact of the same four colours—cinnabar red, blue, green and yellow, as well as accents in white and the brown of the ink—being used both for the three marginal pictures and the two full-page pictures and also for the initial letters with their trailing-vine ornamentation shows that both were the work of the same painter. Moreover, the shapes of the tendrils are similar to those of the six small trailing vines visible above the walls in the picture of the Heavenly Jerusalem. The arabesque tendrils, which have also been painted straight onto the parchment, are especially similar. All these things are strong arguments in favour of the scribe and painter of the Devil’s Bible having been one and the same person.

The largest size of trailing-vine initials, extending all the way from top margin to the bottom one, is used at only six points in the book:
The initial E, opening the Book of Joshua on f. 24r, with the words E(t factum est).
The initial F, opening the Book of Kings on f. 65r, with the words F(uit vir).
And then the four Gospels:
The initial L, opening the Gospel according to St Matthew on f. 254r, with the words L(iber generationis).
The initial I, opening the Gospel according to St Mark on f. 258v, with the
words I(nicium evangelii).
The initial F, opening the Gospel according to St Luke on f. 262r, with the words F(uit autem).    
The initial I, opening the Gospel according to St John on f. 266v, with the words I(n principio).
The initial P opening the Epistles of St Paul (on f. 278r) with his name P(aulus) is just as large as several of the initials which have now been mentioned, but does not reach all the way down to the bottom of the column. In other parts of Codex Gigas  the initials are smaller, especially those with rounded shapes, such as  E (e.g. on ff. 45v, 57v, 112r and 213r), O (on ff. 58v, 61r and  225v), and U, as in Uerba (e.g. on ff. 37r, 56r and v and90r) or letters whose shapes cannot be inscribed within a rectangle, such as F (e.g. on ff. 65r and 115v) and T (e.g. on ff. 107v and 228v).     

The trailing-vine initials are the painter’s most extensive contribution to the Devil’s Bible, as can be seen merely from comparing the area of the six largest initials mentioned above: each of them, covers the full height of the writing area and about half its width. Accordingly, the six giant initials in Codex Gigas together occupy a larger area than the two full-page pictures and the three marginal illustrations combined. Add to this another fifty or so trailing-vine initials of various sizes, and it is clear that the painter had many times more work to do on the initials than on the pictures. Moreover, painting all these trailing-vine roundels and sometimes seed pods and clusters of fruit, as well as—occasionally—animals inside the tendrils demanded brushwork of a precision in no wise inferior to that needed for all the walls and towers of the Heavenly Jerusalem.

The painter was aiming to achieve a plastic depiction of the trailing vines of the initials, and he painted with solid colours. He used only four of the primary colours stated above, brightly toned, as well as white accents and contours, and sometimes whole leaves painted in brown ink. Precious gold was used only twice, and then purely as a decorative addition. Its first occurrence is in the initial L opening the Gospel according to St Matthew, where a gold ground has been painted behind the trailing vines (f. 254r). The reason for this particular initial, which also contains animals, being the largest (78 cm high) and the most lavish in the entire Devil’s Bible is that it marks the beginning of the New Testament. The unusual size of the initial letters in the giant Bible required them to be painted with a full brush and pastose colours. The surfaces of the parchment leaves were rough, and to secure a primary colour behind a letter and trailing vines, the artist often had to apply a colour ground. But not even when he prepared the surface in this way do the thin lines stand out sufficiently, with the result that the acanthus leaves and the small birds and animals which at certain points are inserted in the trailing-vine roundels look more like blobs of colour than composed shapes (Friedl).

The trailing vines of the initial letters are painted in a decorative, advanced Romanesque style, already bordering on naturalism. The plant taken as the starting point is the acanthus, a thistle-like plant which grows wild in the Mediterranean countries. Its polylobate leaves had already made the acanthus a favourite plant among artists in the ancient world. The Greeks first used it, regularly stylised, as an adornment for Corinthian capitals. The finest example from ancient Rome is the Ara Pacis – the peace altar of the Emperor Augustus – on which the acanthus tendrils of the reliefs are naturalistically depicted but arranged in regular spirals. These Ara Pacis tendrils became outstandingly influential, and were frequently emulated in increasingly stylised forms, as in the reliefs and mosaics of many Christian churches (L’Orange, pp. 9-10). From there the decorative acanthus tendrils continue their onward march into book illumination, where from strict stylisation at the beginning of the Romanesque epoch they start, near the end of that epoch, to have an increasing naturalism which was to attain the peak of its achievement in Gothic.

True to the canons of the period, the tendrils of the Devil’s Bible initials have been stylised as growing spirally in regular roundels and when, as is so often the case, a tendril emanates from the trunk in each direction, they are rolled up in two symmetrically arranged spirals round the central axis of the trunk. Another common variant is a spiral coiled in one direction merging with a spiral coiled in the opposite direction. The composition keeps ringing the changes on these basic themes, and although the motifs are very similar, they are never outright copies. Some of the pattern shapes are ancient, others are late Romanesque, i.e. wholly modern when the book illuminator was painting them at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Coiled tendrils of this kind are, then, a very widespread motif in European Romanesque art, which also uses them for stone reliefs on architraves, portals, balustrades—of which there are instances in Bohemia too (Bachmann, pl. 105)—and even, once again, for column capitals. The trailing vines of Codex Gigas conform to the principle of symmetry, and especially in the large initials already referred to. ‘In this respect’, Friedl wrote (p. 91), ‘the book is unique and has no equal anywhere in the book illumination of the period’.

In a handful of initials there are small birds and animals painted inside the trailing vines. This is the case with the green capital F on f. 65r, which occupies the full height of the page at the beginning of Kings I. There inside the training vines we see both a couple of lions and a couple of bears, as well as a couple of wolves or hounds and also several flocks of birds. The large initial I on f. 110v, which opens the Book of Esther, takes the shape of a tall tree stump on which a squirrel sits eating a nut. Here the realistically portrayed squirrel is literally the finishing touch—dotting the I. The above mentioned initial L of the very largest format, opening the Gospel according to St Matthew and with it the New Testament, is alone among all the initials in having a gold ground and it is the most opulent of them all (f. 254r). Here the gold ground has been applied behind all the coiled trailing vines—five large ones with a slightly smaller one at the top—which, one on top of the other, follow the tall vertical stroke of the L. Inside each of the five coiled trailing vines are animals, most of which have dug their teeth into it. In four of the coiled trailing vines the animal is a wolf, but in the second from the bottom we have two dragons. In the large I on f. 258v, which is the initial of Inicium, i.e. the beginning, of the Gospel according to St Mark, two lions stand, each biting one of the seedheads growing symmetrically on each side of the stalk. And in the initial F on f. 262r opening the Gospel according to St Luke, there are eighteen white doves perched in the tendrils. John is the only evangelist not have been given any animals or birds in the acanthus initial of his name (a large I). But in his other writing, the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible, which begins with a large initial A for Apokalipsis on f. 276r, we find a small animal head which has dug its teeth into the actual letter.

The decoration of the Devil’s Bible is not the work of an amateur. It must have been an experienced scribe and illuminator when he was shut up to write and adorn the giant Bible. ‘It catches the eye through the unusual and harmonious beauty of both its large and smaller initials and can bear comparison with the best works, not only of Bohemian but also of any Central European book illumination’ according to the Czech Romanesque painting expert Jirí Masín (Bachmann, p. 146). He found the pictorial embellishments of the book without parallel and unique in their time, though, like Friedl before him, Masín assumed the influence of the Salzburg School (Friedl, pp. 94-5). But Nordenfalk was none too convinced by the parallels adduced by Friedl to late twelfth century Bohemian book illumination. Instead he believed our artist to have found compositional precedent in manuscripts produced in the English Channel region. There alone, he maintained, can one find initials with trailing vines coiled into concentric circles and also having tiny animals inserted in the narrow space between the trailing-vine roundels (Nordenfalk 1975, p. 288). More recent scholars have concurred: it is book illuminations created in Northeast France and Southern England in the so-called Channel style which provided the starting point for the coiled trailing-vine shapes in the initials of the Devil’s Bible (Cahn, pp. 167-9 and Cat. no. 23 on pp. 257-8 and Alexander, Decorated letter, pl. 20). This style quickly spread to neighbouring regions such as the Rhineland (Alexander, Decorated letter, pl. 26 and de Hamel 2001, fig. 58) and Paris, where at the end of the twelfth century initial letters were being painted with small biting animals in coiled tendrils very similar to the initials of the Giant Bible (de Hamel 2001, fig. 76 and frontispiece). According to Elisabeth Klemm, an eminent expert on all South German book illumination, the ornamentation of the initials in our Bible shows our painter to have been familiar with the type of coiled trailing-vine decoration which had developed in Northern France and England during the twelfth century. After 1200, however, it also became widespread in South Germany and Bohemia (Klemm, p. 49). She dates the origin of Codex Gigas to about 1220, because twenty years later the shapes of the coiled trailing vines had already grown more diffuse in Bohemian manuscripts.