Original leaf from the famous Bohun Bible. England, East Anglia, circa 1350.

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“…one of the most magnificent Bibles ever produced in England in medieval times ...."

Considered to have been commissioned by Edward, “The Black Prince”.

DESCRIPTION

Oversized folio-format single parchment leaf, taken from an original four-volume set probably commissioned by Edward III's eldest son, Edward of Woodstock, called the Black Prince (1330-1376), and associated with the house of the Carmelite Order supported by him in Chester. The leaf is on parchment, about 448 mm x 310 mm, ruled in pale brown ink, written with twenty-two lines of a very large gothic hand in brown or dark brown ink, within a ruled space of 314 mm x 203 mm.  Pen-line ornamentation on the first letter of each verse. Prickings are present in the outer margins. Many leaves from the book have original flaws in the parchment, as has this one. 

The two-line illuminated initial 'F' begins Chapter 2 of Ecclesiasticus.  The initial is in raised and brightly burnished gold on a panel coloured in salmon pink and muted blue bearing delicate white tracery with a branching spray of coloured leaves extending upwards and downwards in the margin. 

Chapter number and headlines in alternating red and blue Lombardic capitals, paginated in ink '66' in a later hand.1  The text includes the end of chapter I of Ecclesiasticus and the beginning section of  chapter II.

The exceptionally large script indicates that the manuscript was clearly intended for public reading rather than for private study. 

CONDITION

One small natural hole in the parchment, evidence of previous mounting at the bottom of Recto, slight loss of red pigment in some of the letters in the heading of Recto, light browning to the outer edges, one small round stain in the left column of Recto. Otherwise in excellent condition for its age.  Apart from a stain in the inner margin, Verso is in near fine condition.

Old pencil notes in the bottom margin of Recto including “Bible Mss Leaf, 15th Century” and “Ecclesiastes” - both incorrect.  Four 15th/16th century style comical profile faces drawn in very pale ink in Recto & Verso margins.

HISTORY

The Bohun family were the Earls of Hereford and Essex, whose principal estates were in East Anglia, and were intimately connected with the royal court. Their lineage in England goes back to Humphrey de Bohun, who arrived in 1066 with William the Conqueror. They and their immediate circle were the most important patrons of book illumination in England in the fourteenth century. Eventually the last Bohun heiress, Mary, married the future Henry IV and became the mother of Henry V.

The four volumes making up the whole Bible would perhaps have been Genesis to Ruth, the second, 1 Samuel to Job (or Psalms, if the Psalter was included, which was not always the case in England), the third, Proverbs to Malachi and the fourth Maccabees and all of the New Testament.

De Hamel concludes his Script & Print article with:  ”In all probability, then, we have parts of the lectern Bible of the Carmelites of Chester. The house was in existence by 1277 but was principally endowed and financed by the Black Prince, son of Edward III, in 1353-58 and by Thomas de Strathom of Lymme and his wife Isabel in 1367. This is exactly the period when one might expect a Bible to be prepared and presented in the fashionable courtly style of the Bohun family patronage of south-east England.”2

The leaf-by-leaf dispersal of the Bohun Bible began as early as the 17th century; ultimately, the Bible was dismembered by Myers & Co. on Bond Street in London, who sold individual leaves beginning in 1927, finding homes for them in many institutional and private collections throughout the world. 

SOME LIBRARIES & INSTITUTIONS HOLDING BOHUN BIBLE LEAVES.

Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales.

Bloomington, Lilly Library.

Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard University, Houghton Library.

Chicago, Art Institute.

Chicago, Newberry Library.

Chicago, University Library.

Claremont, Scripps College, Denison Library.

Dunedin Public Library.

London, Ealing Abbey.

New York, Morgan Library and Museum.

Oxford, Bodleian Library.

Philadelphia, Free Library.

San Marino, Huntington Library.

Tokyo, Keio University Library.

Tokyo, Toshiyuki Takamiya collection.

Toronto, Fisher Rare Book Library.

West Lafayette, Purdue University Library.

This Ecclesiasticus leaf is believed to be the only Bohun Bible leaf in Australia.

CHRISTOPHER DE HAMEL.   The story of this illustrious manuscript is the result of de Hamel’s research. He alone deduced the Bible’s provenance and identified hundreds of extant leaves scattered throughout the world from Chicago to Tokyo to New Zealand. He is a British academic librarian, author, and expert on mediaeval manuscripts. He is a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and former Fellow Librarian of the Parker Library.

Item No. MBI056

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