Bible Illustration Throughout the Centuries

Through the centuries, whether Bibles were produced by hand copying or by high-speed press, illustrations have been added, both to beautify the text and to add more visual information to the stories. The display includes examples of a range of technological innovation, from the early illuminated manuscripts, to wood-block prints, metal engraving, and color lithography.

Examples include the work of the popular 19th century illustrator Gustav Doré and editions incorporating the art work of the Renaissance masters. Also included are examples of twentieth century visual interpretations of the Bible.

In addition to browsing this website, you are invited to view the material itself in the cases on the second floor of the Library. There, you will also find a computer kiosk where you can view and listen to the explanation of the Collection. It is located at the far end of the cases towards the elevators.

Case One

Long before the invention of printing, the written word was supplemented by some form of picture. One form was illumination, the decoration of a manuscript with gold or silver as well as colors. The result was a compound of illustration and ornament, as seen in the example of a decorative initial reproduced from the Corbie Psalter (9th century).

Another form of note, consisting entirely of illustration with no words at all, is seen in the example reproduced here of a custom-made, 14th century devotional booklet from Germany.

The earliest Bibles for popular use were nearly all illustration. The Biblia Pauperum (Bible of the Poor), was used to provide religious instruction to the illiterate masses. Generally, these Bibles were produced by simple wood-block printing. Some, however, like the Vatican Library facsimile on display here, were much more ornately done.

[click thumbnail for large view]

Illustraited 'B'
Corbie Psalter, Decorated Initials, 9th
Century, from Europe of the Invasions, 1969
Pen illustration
Biblia Pauperum, 15th Century
Facsimile by Duquesne University, 1990
Illustration and text
Biblia Pauperum
Facsimile from Vatican Library
Zürich, 1984
Colorful illustration
Devotional Booklet, circa 1330-40
From The Image of Christ, London
National Gallery, 2000

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