Leaves of Gold: Treasures of Manuscript Illumination fron Philadelphia Collections
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BIBLES: Introduction | Gallery Guide
BOOKS OF HOURS: Introduction | Gallery Guide
PSALTERS: Introduction | Gallery Guide
LITURGICAL: Introduction | Gallery Guide
LITERARY: Introduction | Gallery Guide

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An Introduction to Bibles


Noah's Ark, one of three roundels illustrating the opening chapter of Genesis. University of Pennsylvania, Walter and Leonore Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library, MS Codex 236, fol. 30v

The word "Bible" is derived from the Greek word biblia, meaning "books." The earliest sacred Judeo-Christian writings were set down separately, at different times, on scrolls of papyrus or vellum. When these independent elements were bound together, they were called "Bibles."

Bibles of two different types are seen here: large versions intended for communal reading and smaller ones for personal use and study by priests, monks, scholars, and students. The larger Bibles were frequently sumptuous manuscripts written in beautifully decorated and embellished calligraphy. Narrative and allegorical illustrations, called miniatures, adorned the individual pages.

The smaller "pocket" Bibles were less elaborate. They were often illuminated with historiated initials—tiny exquisite miniatures inserted into the enlarged first letter of a paragraph or chapter.


gallery guide |view first manuscript

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Leaves of Gold is a collaborative exhibition organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries. All materials on this site are copyright 2001 the Philadelphia Museum of Art except as indicated herein.