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Illuminated manuscript

  • Place of origin:

    Liège (province) (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1160 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    watercolour, with egg or gum binding medium and gold leaf on vellum

  • Museum number:

    8982

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 5

This double-sided manuscript leaf depicts scenes from the first book of the Bible: Genesis. One side shows scenes from the story of Cain and Abel. The other shows King Melchisedek blessing Abraham and Abraham’s nephew Lot being captured.

It was a medieval custom to interpret the Old Testament as a prefiguration of the New. Each major New Testament subject was seen as having several forerunners or ‘types’ in the Old Testament. Cain murdering Abel was often interpreted as a forerunner of Christ’s betrayal by Judas, while Melchisedek giving Abraham bread and wine was widely accepted as prefiguring the Eucharist.

This particular manuscript leaf may have come from a Bible or Psalter (book of Psalms), or an artist’s Model Book. Another fragment thought to be from the same manuscript is located in Liège University (Wittert Coll.) and a group of similar leaves is found in Berlin (Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinet, inv. No. 78 A 6).

The leaf was purchased by the V&A in 1883 for £2.

Physical description

One side shows Cain and Abel offering up sacrifices to God at the top of the page and Cain killing Abel at the bottom. The other side shows Melchisedek blessing Abraham at the top of the page and the capture of Lot at the bottom.

Place of Origin

Liège (province) (possibly, made)

Date

ca. 1160 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

watercolour, with egg or gum binding medium and gold leaf on vellum

Dimensions

Height: 22.7 cm at highest, Width: 15.9 cm at widest

Object history note

This manuscript leaf was one of a group of seemingly unrelated leaves purchased from W. H. J. Weale on April 9th 1883. As a whole, the group cost £26.17.6. Individually, this leaf cost £2.

The entry in the Register of Drawings 1880 to 1884 (museum numbers 8526 to 11002) lists the leaf as:

Miniature. The sacrifices of Abel and Cain, and the murder of Abel. On the verso: Melchisedech offering bread and wine to Abram, and Abram's servants driving cattle and prisoners. Liège, xii cent.

Historical significance: This particular leaf and another at Liège University (Wittert Coll.) are thought to have come from the same manuscript. Both are very similar to a group of leaves located in Berlin (Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinet, inv. No. 78 A 6) but are unlikely to be from the same manuscript as one of the scenes, Melchisedek blessing Abraham, is repeated.

The larger group of leaves in Berlin has been the subject of much discussion as to whether or not it should be regarded as a model book or as the remains or a fragment of a Bible or Psalter (see Exemplum, Scheller, pp.123-131). Similar uncertainty surrounds the V&A’s leaf but with less leaves to work from it is perhaps even more difficult to say whether it is one thing or another.

In both cases the similarities between the leaves and the work of Mosan artists working in the Liège region of France has been commented upon. Scenes of Cain and Abel sacrificing and Melchisedek blessing Abraham appear in identical form and typological context on contemporary enamelled crosses produced in that area.

This has lead to the suggestion that the leaves formed part of a model book used by Mosan goldsmiths. Whether this were the case or not, the style of all the leaves is so similar to both manuscripts (compare, for example, the Floreffe Bible) and enamels produced in the Liège region in the mid twelfth century that their place of origin, at least, seems certain.

Historical context note

Many twelfth century Psalters and Bibles included an introductory cycle of miniatures. These often incorporated scenes from the Book of Genesis. It was a medieval custom to interpret the Old Testament as a prefiguration of the New. Each major New Testament subject was seen as having several forerunners or ‘types’ in the Old Testament - Cain and Abel sacrificing was seen as symbolising the Synagogue and the Church; Cain murdering Abel was seen as a forerunner of Christ’s betrayal by Judas; and Melchisedek giving Abraham bread and wine was widely accepted as prefiguring the Eucharist.

Data taken from notes compiled by Rowan Watson. The full text of the entry is as follows:

Cat. no. 137
8982 (MS 413)
BIBLE?
Leaf with a full-page miniature on each side: Sacrifice of Cain and Abel, and the killing of Abel; Melchisedek blessing Abraham and the capture of Lot. Possibly from a model-book

NL (Liège). c. 1160
230 x 160 mm.
Pub: 1923 cat, 35 (given as German c. 1200) ; ` Medieval Treasury' (1986), pp 142-3 col. pl. 11'

Descriptive line

Double-sided folio from a Bible, Psalter or model-book depicting Cain and Abel on one side and Melchisedek blessing Abraham and the capture of Lot on the other; ca.1160; Southern Netherlands (possibly Liège); watercolour and gold leaf on vellum.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

The Medieval Treasury - The Art of the Middle Ages in the Victoria and Albert Museum, edited by Paul Williamson, London, 1986, pp.142-143 and fig.11
Exemplum - Model-Book Drawings and the Practice of Artistic Transmission in the Middle Ages (ca. 900 - ca. 1450), by Robert W. Scheller, Amsterdam, 1995, pp.123-131

Labels and date

LEAF FROM A BIBLE, PSALTER OR MODEL BOOK
About 1160

Adam and Eve had two sons: Abel, who
kept sheep, and Cain, who grew crops. Cain
famously murdered his brother in a fit of
jealously. The story, illustrated here, was
thought to prefigure the New Testament
combat between the new church (in the
person of Christ) and the old religion
(represented by the Synagogue).

Southern Netherlands,
possibly Liège region
Watercolour on parchment
Museum no. 8982 [2009]

Materials

Watercolour; Gold leaf; Vellum; Binder

Categories

Books; Christianity; Manuscripts; Religion

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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