- Reference: Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Ms. Nouv. acq. lat. 2334.
- Other names: Biblia de Tours o de Ashburnham.
- Dimensions: 370 x 320 mm.
- 142 sheets of coarse parchment.
- 59 thumbnails, 24 full-page thumbnails.
- Facsimile: Patrimonio Ediciones
It is the oldest surviving Latin manuscript with miniatures from the High Middle Ages. Its origin is much disputed; while Professor Narkiss, after devoting many years to its study, regards it as realized in the fifth century in the imperial scriptorium of Rome on the commission of Galla Placidia, for the education of his son Emperor Valentinian III, other authors consider it most likely to be created in the seventh century in the scriptorium of Seville.
It was kept in the Cathedral Library of Tours, dedicated to San Gaciano, at least since the eleventh century as in Romanesque mural paintings from the church of St.Julian of Tours the representation of Tabernacle was copied from its front page. From there it was stolen by the Italian Guillaume Libri-Carrucci, who worked in France from 1841 as secretary of a commission that was to draw up an inventory of all the manuscripts of a French department. Libri took advantage of his position to steal it without leaving any fingerprints as he modified and falsified the catalog seats leaving false clues. He fled to England and sold it to Lord Ashburnham as a manuscript from Gratoferrata, near Rome. Delisle later recognized him as the Pentateuch of San Gaciano for his description in ancient inventories. On the death of said lord, it was acquired at auction by the French government for the National Library of Paris.
Many other details of his miniatures -watered on red, green or blue monochrome backgrounds and all framed in a red fillet- indicate that his illustrators were using as a model some book of the Thora, although the depiction on several pages of the image of the creator in human form, which would be inadmissible in Jewish culture, confirms its origin in a Christian scriptorium. According to W. Neuss, the illustration of texts depicting the human figure had to be practiced in Spain during the Visigothic period, continuing a tradition of North African origin that can be observed in a certain frontality of the characters and a grouping of them in a triangular form, which is also later visible in the 10th century Leonese Bibles and confirms the Paleo-Christian and Visigoth influence existing in the Mozarabic miniature.
The structure of the pages in question presents a certain disorder, in which the stories are not usually distributed in an orderly way in horizontal strips, but various vignettes are added, not always in the same order as the texts and with different formats, adjusted basically to its content, without taking into account its form of presentation. It seems that earlier models, better organized but recreated according to the criteria of the miniaturist, without respecting the original structure, have been used for their manufacture. For example in the “Story of Adam and Eve”, it includes in an unordered manner, among others, themes such as “Adam and Eve Dressed”, “Eve breastfeeding”, “Cain and Abel”, Offertory of Cain and Abel”, “Cain rebuked by the Hand of God” or “Abel’s Death”.
However, in other cases, such as the miniature of the Universal Flood, a single scene occupies the entire page. This miniature is of great interest because it is repeated in a very similar way in the Blesseds of the tenth and following centuries, in which the existence of bodies of normal size and of giants, to which the first chapters of the Bible refer, but which do not appear in the text of the Commentaries of Blessed de Liébana, which seems to indicate that the first copyists of the Blessed had manuscripts of the Bible of the type of this Pentateuch, which included images of the giants.
If we analyze all the above, it seems unlikely that a work of this type was made in the imperial scriptorium of Rome for Gala Placidia in the 5th century, for its total lack of stylistic references that could relate it to the type of Byzantine imagery, which was the dominant influence in all of Italy at that time. However, as we have seen, many reasons can be found to defend the theory that it was developed in the scriptorium visigodo of Seville in the seventh century:
The eclecticism that is evident in the freedom with which the author of this Pentateuch acts, without adhering to any standardization of style or structure, typical of artistic creation in Visigoth Spain.
The influences of the North African Church, which we know were fundamental in the development of Visigoth art in Hispania in the 6th and 7th centuries and left many samples throughout the southwest of the peninsula.
The existence in Seville at the time of San Leandro and San Isidoro of one of the largest libraries in Europe, which contained a large number of manuscripts of all kinds and origin, including a multitude of Jewish texts and possibly among them those used for the preparation of our manuscript, as shown by the bibliography managed by Saint Isidore to make his Etymologies.
The importance of the scriptorium of Seville, capable of producing multiple copies of the enormous literary output generated by both bishops and their disciples.
The appearance in the images of the later Spanish Blesseds of motifs that we already find in this Pentateuch and of which we know no other antecedents.
Based on the above, the Pontifical Commission that studied the manuscript in the middle of the last century declared it a Visigoth, although an in-depth study of the characteristics of the Latin in which it is written was pending, which could confirm its provenance if it were similar to the Visigoth Latin of that time.
Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomos VI y VII*
SUMMA ARTIS: Tomos VIII y XXII
L’Art Préroman Hispanique: ZODIAQUE
Arte y Arquitectura española 500/1250: Joaquín Yarza
El Pentateuco Ashburnham; Bezalel Narkiss