Second Bible of St Martial Abbey
“Aquitaine“ Limousin style reached its climax with the work of the author of the Second Bible, which took him to an undeniable degree of perfection.
This Second Bible of Saint-Martial is a manuscript in atlas format, bound in two volumes. Its parchment, adjusted to the dry point, is superfine and smooth. Each book and forewords start with a versal initial while large full-page canons are preserved in the second volume. The virtuosity of its drawing and the marvellous abundance of its bestiary, together with its illustrated initials make it a masterpiece of Romanesque illumination.
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This manuscript is dated back to the second half of XI century or the early XII century. It was produced during the office of Ademar, first Cluniac Abbot of Limoges Abbey and its constancy with “Aquitaine“ Limousin traditions is thus more noteworthy at a time when Cluniacs who lived in Limoges could have tried to bring forward customs from the Burgundian workshop.
Ornate letters all draw from “Franco-Insular” (Franco-Saxon) patterns of versal letters, as seen in the Second Bible of Charles the Bald, which were very popular with Romanesque illuminators. However the artist supplemented with “Aquitaine” scrolls, quill drawn on bright colours backgrounds. “Aquitaine” palmettes are either shaped into a traditional fan of spiked leaves, or into tiny acanthus leaves. Alongside this ornamentation, shared by many manuscripts in the South-West, appears a very original second floral decoration.
Animals are a major element in the decoration of ornate letters, but the Bible does not have any zoomorphic initial as seen in the Lectionary or in the “tropaire-prosier” (troparium-prosula)
Animals are mostly used outside the letter frame in order to fill up the space dedicated to illumination. The Bible’s bestiary is very diversified. Besides animals like a dog, fox, hare, birds, a snake, he-goats or fishes, which appear to be the favourite themes of the artist, features an owl with ruffled feathers (quite rare in Romanesque Art). The painter also draws its inspiration from ivories and precious fabrics of Arabic or oriental origin. Elephants, with clawed paws and with a carpet on their back, support the canons’ columns. Stags, birds of prey, griffins, hieratic lions, monkeys in this Bible, identical to those in the Apocalypse of Saint-Sever, undoubtedly have the same source of inspiration…
Some other monsters are reminiscent of themes from Late Antiquity which could have been passed on through Carolingians, as is the case for the chimaera.
The beginning of the XII century provides a second phase in the production of manuscripts in the Scriptorium of the Abbey of Saint-Martial in Limoges. In that period, two masterpieces express the utmost importance: the Second Bible and the Sacramentary.
Firstly, it has to be mentioned that this Second Bible has been decorated by two artists, and furthermore, of uneven quality.
For the majority of images, the frame replicates the semi-circular or half-panelled arches in the Apocalypse of the Abbey in Saint-Sever-sur-Adour in Gascony. The three parts architectural elements which top them, with low domes linked by long tangent ridge lines on the extrados of the arches, seem transferred, as well, from the manuscript of Saint-Sever. Simultaneously with Limoges, this Gascon input of shapes and garnish, spread to Poitou and Anjou although we have no proof that it happened via Saint-Martial.
The odd substructures shaped into squatting or dancing characters, as well as some capitals with lions, stem from Carolingians models, Limoges having lent them, in turn, to Italy as seen in the ambo of Saint-Ambrose in Milan.
However starched tight folds, fabrics arranged on the body while moulding muscles, are reminiscent of Toulouse and Moissac.
The artist of this Bible, deeply steeped in his country’s art, is first and foremost, most importantly, a great artist, an accurate and meticulous draughtsman, with graphics as precise as a blue-print, and who uses a delicate counterbalance in order to soften small sceneries that would stiffen a rigorous equilibrium much reinforced by the gentle and even vibrancy of the colouring.
(Source - le Limousin roman / Editions Zodiaque)