The Longest Day; Israel's Enemies Humiliated, from The Crusader Bible (The Morgan Picture Bible), MS M.638, fol. 11r. by Unknown French Artist [Paris]

Unknown French artist [Paris]

The Longest Day; Israel's Enemies Humiliated, from The Crusader Bible (The Morgan Picture Bible), c.1244–54, Illumination on vellum, 390 x 300 mm, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, MS M.638, fol. 11r, Photo: Courtesy of The Morgan Library & Museum

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A Mirror for Princes

Commentary by

One can almost hear the pounding hooves and the clash of weapons emanating from the pages of the Morgan Crusader Bible.

In the centre of the top register of this two-tiered image is Joshua, astride a bay horse caparisoned in white; blood spurts from the end of his lance as his victim topples backwards from his horse. As the Crusader poet Bertran de Born exulted, ‘Trumpets, drums, standards and pennons and ensigns and horses white and black we soon shall see, and the world will be good’ (Paden 1986: 398).

Outlined against the royal blue sky and with raised arm, Joshua appears a second time in the top tier, commanding the sun and moon (Joshua 10:12–13), which are both depicted in the heavens at the upper right of the composition. At the right of the lower register, he is shown a third time, in this instance standing without his helm and holding a lance, as he exhorts the Israelite captains to place their feet on the necks of the Amorite kings (10:24), reminding them that it is God who has given them the victory (10:25).

The Morgan Crusader Bible has long been thought to have been produced in Paris at the court of Louis IX in the mid-1240s, around the time he was planning the Sixth Crusade. Joshua had been regularly invoked since the start of the Crusades and Louis IX may have made a personal connection: when he commissioned the Old Testament windows of the Sainte-Chapelle (1238–48), the Joshua cycle was placed directly behind Louis’s own place in the chapel.

The forty-six folios of the Crusader Bible were painted without text; this, and its comparatively large size, suggest it was intended to offer the reader a visually immersive experience. The multiple captions seen today were added at intervals in five languages over the next four hundred years: Latin, Persian, Arabic, Judaeo-Persian, and Hebrew.

Louis’s crusade in 1250 proved a failure, but the story of Joshua still served him as a model to institute domestic reforms, designed to set him and his kingdom right with God.

 

References

Gaposchkin, M. C. 2008. ‘Louis IX, Crusade and the Promise of Joshua in the Holy Land’, Journal of Medieval History, 34.3: 245–74

Paden, William Doremus, Tilde Sankovitch, and Patricia H. Stäblein (eds.). 1986. The Poems of the Troubadour Bertran de Born (Berkeley: University of California Press)