As Winchester Cathedral sends its lavishly illuminated 12th-century bible on an overseas journey during renovations at home (the book arrived in New York this week, for an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), it has undertaken a quest to recover the tome’s missing illuminations.
Though it is considered to be the best-surviving English bible of its time, the book is missing no less than eight illuminations that are believed to have been stolen in the last 150 years. According to an essay by the cathedral’s vice dean, Roland Riem, written for the Met exhibition, “there is a good chance that some still survive, but without being linked to the Winchester Bible.”
Most of the missing illuminations feature oversize capital letters, although one features the prophet Jonah. Because most of the lost drawings are the work of the so-called Master of the Genesis Initial, one of four artists who worked on the manuscript, Jo Bartholomew, the cathedral’s librarian, told the Art Newspaper it is “possible that the initials were all removed at one time by someone who particularly liked that artist.”
In 1948, the cathedral successfully tracked down one of the stolen illuminations, and stitched it back into the page. The bible’s two title page illuminations are part of the collection of the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, and have been reunited for the Met show. This is the first time the bible is outside of England.
The Winchester Bible isn’t the only major medieval religious manuscript in the city for the holidays: the Sacred Convent of St. Francis in Assisi has lent a group of recently-restored writings that have never before left Italy to the Brooklyn Borough Hall exhibition “Friar Francis: Traces, Words, and Images,” on view through mid-January.
“The Winchester Bible: A Masterpiece of Medieval Art” is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, through March 9, 2015.
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