The Apostle Paul's Shipwreck, from Pauline Epistles with commentary by Petrus Lombardus by Unknown Spanish artist

Unknown Spanish artist

The Apostle Paul's Shipwreck, from Pauline Epistles with commentary by Petrus Lombardus, 1181, Illumination on vellum, 365 x 248 mm, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, MS M.939m, fol. 194r, Courtesy of The Morgan Library & Museum, New York

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There’s No Harm Done

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This illumination from a Latin minuscule manuscript of the Pauline Epistles, with commentary by Petrus Lombardus, was written and illuminated in León, Spain, at the Cistercian monastery of Saints Facundo and Primitivo in Sahagún. According to the colophon, the manuscript was produced in 1181 at the order of the abbot Guterius, who presided over the monastery from 1164 to 1182.

In the illumination, framed in the initial P of Paulus, Paul, faintly nimbed, appears seated in a sailing boat on the water with his hands bound and a rope around his neck. Two men stand at right, one holding the rope that binds him. Between them and Paul stand the ship’s mast and sail. A third man, seated, holds a rudder in his right hand. The Apostle’s name is the first word of the enlarged letters of the phrase, ‘Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus’, Paul’s typical self-presentation in the openings of his letters.

The illumination suggests the literary synergy of Acts and the Pauline Epistles in the canonical construction of the figure of the Apostle Paul. The Epistles provide only autobiographical snippets about Paul’s life and work: for a narrative representation of the Apostle, commentators have always relied on Acts, where Paul is the principal protagonist for the entire latter half of the book.

The illumination is a scene from Paul’s fateful voyage recounted in Acts 27, which has no explicit referent anywhere in Paul’s letters. Yet though he says nothing of itineraries, fellow travellers, rescues, or recoveries, among his many hardships Paul claims to have suffered not one but three shipwrecks (2 Corinthians 11:25), no doubt setting an ancient record for maritime survival: for most victims of shipwreck in antiquity, their first was also their last.

 

References

Eleen, Luba. 1982. The Illustrations of the Pauline Epistles in French and English Bibles of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (Oxford: Clarendon Press), 23 n.129, 77, 85–86, 91–94; 99–101, fig. 168


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