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Pamplona Bibles


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Diario de Navarra

Soledad de Silva y Verástegui :: Soledad de Silva y Verástegui :: Soledad de Silva y Verástegui

Professor of Art History

The magnificent copy of the Bible that was commissioned by King Sancho the Strong of Navarre at the end of the 12th century and the copy that was obtained for a distinguished member of the royal family shortly afterwards are now known as the Pamplona Bibles. Both are found today, outside of Spain. The first is preserved in the Library Services Municipal of Amiens (ms. 108) and the second in the Library Services University of Augsburg (Cod.I.2.4º 15). The Amiens Bible was commissioned by the Navarrese king in 1197 to Ferran Perez de Funes, chancellor during the final years of his father's reign, possibly for his use staff given its peculiar characteristics. It is indeed a Bible of images, one of the oldest copies that have come down to us, in which the miniature occupies the entire page and the text has been reduced to one or two lines located in the upper or lower margin of the folio, as an explanatory title. This subject of books that began to spread around 1200 in the North of France and England were very suitable for religious instruction and the exercise of piety of the laity, so the king could have commissioned it for his own devotions. It goes without saying that this class of books to see, in which the emphasis is placed mainly on the image over the text, constitutes one of the most renovating aspects in the history of the medieval illustrated book since in them the relationship text-image is inverted by that of image-text. Originally the codex contained two hundred and seventy-four parchment folios, all illustrated with miniatures in which line predominates over color, preferably using yellow and green, blue, red and some violet. Gold was also used on occasion. The compositions are extremely simple and are distributed according to the relevance that the illustrator wanted to give to the different subjects. The most emblematic themes occupy an entire folio or double page, while the rest are grouped two by two per page, generally separated by a faint horizontal line. The iconographic program integrates the Old and New Testament but adds as a novelty a magnificent martyrology and lives of saints, unique in the Peninsula in its time, where the illustration of this subject of texts was not usual. The insistence on the martyrdom of the saints of the first centuries of Christianity may have been motivated by the new responsibilities of the king, on acceding to the throne, as defender of the faith against the infidel. Another important innovation of this Bible is the final apocalyptic cycle, since none of the early medieval Bibles circulating in the Peninsula had the book of the Apocalypse of John illustrated. Only the Bible of Roda (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, ms. 6) dated in the third quarter of the 11th century and made in Catalan environments had the Apocalypse illustrated.

The Bible commissioned by the king must have satisfied those close to the monarch, so that a copy was obtained immediately afterwards, possibly destined for a person of high rank. It is noteworthy that for this Augsburg copy a finer parchment, more gold employment and more expensive pigments were used. The manuscript was made in the same scriptorium by Ferrán Pérez de Funes and his assistants, given its textual, iconographic, stylistic and technical resemblance to the model. It originally consisted of two hundred and eighty-eight parchment folios, all of which were also illustrated. The iconographic program is practically identical, although some differences can be observed. The Old Testament contains 49 more scenes. In general terms, a greater dramatism is evident, for example, in the conception of death. While in the Amiens copy the representation of death in the bed surrounded by relatives was chosen, in this second Bible the burial or burial in a sarcophagus was preferred. The same happens in the scene of the sacrifice of Isaac, much more violent in the second Bible where Abraham's sword grazes the neck of his son than in the real Bible. This greater realism is also noticeable in the interpretation of many of the themes of the New Testament. The cycle of the saints was expanded with 42 saints, which has led to think that the recipient of this Bible was a woman. It has been thought that one of the king's sisters, Teresa, Berenguela or Blanca, married respectively to Richard the Lionheart and Theobald III of Champagne. However, this is the most neglected part of this copy, as perhaps the haste to finish the codex caused some mistakes and repetitions. In some cases even the illustrators of the Augsburg Bible neglected the model as can be seen in the miniature of the Last Judgment within the apocalyptic cycle. In the Amiens Bible a very original image was used, such as the figure of Christ the Judge, conceived as a Crucified One, accompanied by angels, surrounded by the just and having the damned on his left. The illustrator of the Augsburg Bible simply offered us a large golden cross in the middle of a deep blue background, advertisement of the Final Parousia.

We know that a new copy of the royal manuscript, now preserved in New York (Public Library, Spencer, ms.22), was obtained at the beginning of the 14th century for Joan II of Navarre. The codex differs notably in linguistic and aesthetic aspects, given its chronology, and has been attributed to the master of Fauvel.