'Solomon dedicates the temple; Christ thanks the Father for the Church', from a Bible Moralisée by Unknown artist

Unknown artist

'Solomon dedicates the temple; Christ thanks the Father for the Church', from a Bible Moralisée, Early thirteenth century, Manuscript illumination, 344 x 260 mm, Österreichische Nationalbibliotek, Vienna, Codex Vindobonensis 2554, fol. 50, Courtesy of Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna

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Temple and Church

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Codex Vindobonensis 2554 is one of the earliest examples of a Bible Moralisée, or ‘moralized’ Bible—a genre of manuscript developed in the thirteenth century for the French royal family. In contrast to earlier manuscripts of the Scriptures in which text dominated, the Bible Moralisée was essentially a picture book to which short explanatory commentaries were added.

Here we see the illuminations arranged in pairs: a biblical scene, and beneath it a second visual image that suggests its ‘spiritual sense’. The accompanying text of the Bible Moralisée (seen here in the left margin) helps readers to interpret how the juxtaposed pictures can instruct them. In a way appropriate to their royal users, the scenes chosen for commentary frequently emphasize proper rule and the importance of purifying the Church.

In the first of this pair of illuminations accompanying the book of Kings, we see the full-length figure of the crowned Solomon with hands raised in a gesture of prayerful fealty, next to a schematized imagining of the interior of the Temple, represented as a ciborium with a dome. In the upper right corner of the image God (in the form of Christ, with a cross in his halo) extends his hand in blessing. The marginal text reads: ‘Here Solomon comes and gives thanks to God and praises the Lord God when he has finished the Temple, and God descends and gives his blessing to the Temple’.

Below this scene, in a second roundel, we see the image designed to accompany it: Christ standing next to a highly stylized Gothic church, with steeples and flying buttresses. Christ makes a gesture similar to Solomon’s. He wears a blue inner garment, and red outer robe—a reversal of the colours of Solomon’s clothing. They mirror each other as prefiguring type and prefigured antitype. God once again appears in the upper right, blessing. The text explains the spiritual meaning of this moment: ‘That Solomon gave thanks to God when he had finished the temple and God gave him His blessing signifies Jesus Christ who gave thanks to the Father of Heaven for finishing the Holy Church and the Father of Heaven descended and gave [His] blessing and his grace’.

As Solomon is presented as a prefiguration of Christ, so the physical Temple he built is presented as a type for the spiritual reality of the Church instituted by the Saviour.

 

References

Guest, Gerald B. 1995. Bible Moralisée. Codex Vindobonensis 2554, Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliotek (London: Harvey Miller Publishers)

Lowden, John. 2005. ‘The “Bible Moralisée” in the Fifteenth Century and the Challenge of the “Bible Historiale”’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 68: 73–136


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