Joel, from Biblia Sancti Petri Rodensis (The Roda Bible) by Unknown Catalan artist

Unknown Catalan artist

Joel, from Biblia Sancti Petri Rodensis (The Roda Bible), 901–1100, Illuminated manuscript, tempera on parchment, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Paris, Latin 6 (3), fol. 77v, ark: / 12148 / btv1b85388130

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Illuminating the Salient

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This illumination is from one of the finest extant eleventh-century Catalan manuscripts: a Bible made for the monastery library at Sant Pere de Rodes (known as the Roda Bible). Including extensive Old Testament pictorial cycles, it is especially rare because of the rich illustrations of the Prophets.

In this example, salient events from Joel 1 have been represented as a series of literal events: his reception of the word (v.1) and preaching (vv.2–3) in the top register; the plague of locusts (v.4) at the centre; and the priests kneeling before the altar in the temple (vv.9, 13) in the lowest register. At the upper left, Joel stands within a delicate architectural framework, receiving the word of the Lord through divine means (represented by a disembodied hand, a motif often used by artists to represent Moses’s reception of the Law). Joel reappears in the scene at the right, his raised left hand and open palm indicate that he is preaching to the group of men, young and old, before him. Raised and seemingly floating above the ground, Joel is given special prominence over his attentive audience. The Prophet is also distinguished by his halo and bare feet, the latter calling to mind Moses’s humble removal of his sandals before the burning bush (Exodus 3:5). The assembled group must represent the elders and their children to whom Joel preached about the locust plagues, the large winged insects occupying the centre of the page. The locusts devour the remaining vegetation in an otherwise barren landscape, suggested by the curious undulating surface represented beneath them.

The lowermost scene likely represents the priests ministering before the altar during this plague, but neither their expressions nor their dress particularly suggest the state of mourning Joel describes. Further, while their toga-like robes imply an event in the distant past, the design of the temple recalls Catalan Romanesque architecture. These details give the events described in Joel a contemporary resonance, suggesting that the priests and monks of Sant Pere de Rodes were meant to recognise themselves in these biblical figures.

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