French Renaissance Paleography


Paris, 1360-1370
“Book of Esther (beginning).” In Bible historiale, vol. 1
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, MS 1 vol. 1


Petrus Comestor’s 12th-century -century Historia Scholastica was already a popular text, widely used in learned and clerical milieus, when the canon Guyart de Moulins translated it into French in the late thirteenth century. The result of Guyart’s enormous undertaking is the Bible Historiale, _a history of the world based on the events of the Bible. Guyart de Moulins’s vernacular translation found immense success in the 14th and 15th centuries, and approximately 150 manuscript copies of the _Bible Historiale survive today.

This two-volume manuscript in the Getty Museum exhibits the standard decoration and layout for luxury copies of the Bible Historiale: a large frontispiece opens each volume and numerous single-column miniatures illustrate the text. Most of the chapters in the _Bible Historiale _are introduced by a miniature depicting an event near the beginning of that book or, as is the case with the miniature on folio 262r introducing the Book of Esther, an image that encapsulates the theme or subject matter of that book. The crowned figure of Esther appears before King Ahasuerus in an apt opening miniature for this text centered on Esther’s role in saving the Jewish people from destruction.

Nothing is known of the original patron or owner of the manuscript, but the style of the miniatures permits us to identify the painter as the “Master of John de Mandeville.” This otherwise anonymous artist takes his name from a luxury copy of Mandeville’s Travels that he illustrated for King Charles V (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, MS nouv. ac. fr. 4515-4516). The artist was active in the courts of King Charles V and John the Good (Jean le Bon) in the third quarter of the 14th century, and his style is typical of elite 14th-century Parisian production. The artist used a partial grisaille (gray painting) technique, with touches of color for the faces and hands, to portray the elegant and fashionably dressed figures of Ahasuerus, Esther, and her attendants. In addition to this manuscript, the Master of John de Mandeville is known to have illustrated at least two other copies of the Bible Historiale. 


-Lobrichon, Guy. “The Story of a Success: The Bible historiale in French (1295 - ca. 1500).” In Form and Function in the Late Medieval Bible, _ed. Eyal Poleg and Laura Light. Boston: Brill, 2013, 307-31. -Fournié, Eléonore. _L’Iconographie de la _Bible historiale. Turnhout: Brepols, 2012. -Morrison, Elizabeth, and Anne Dawson Hedeman. _Imagining the Past in France: History in Manuscript Painting, 1250-1500. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2010 [cat. no. 22, pp. 166-67]. -Fournié, Eléonore. “Catalogue des manuscrits de la Bible historiale _(2/3).” _L’Atelier du Centre de recherches historiques 3, no. 2 (2009). doi:10.4000/acrh.1468. URL: