Titre et résumé de la conférence :
The Palatine Bible. A Visual Assault Against a Two-Headed Monster
The Palatine Bible (Vatican Library, MSS. Pal. Lat. 3, 4, 5), the earliest extant Giant Bible to include figural illustration, can approximately be dated through its close stylistic affinities with the Bamberg Moralia in Iob (Bamberg: Staatsbibliothek, MS. bibl. 41). The Moralia includes a precious inscription in a German hand, which concerns Bamberg’s bishop Gunther and dates between 1061-62. The origin of production of the Palatine Bible is uncertain. However, since it is the first in a series of illustrated manuscripts that was created as part of the initiative of the reformist papacy in Rome beginning in the middle of the eleventh century to regain its religious supremacy, its likely locus of creation was Rome. Its figural illustration will be interpreted in this paper as expressing the political aspirations of the early reformers, specifically Humbert, cardinal-bishop of Silva Candida; Peter Damian, cardinal-bishop of Ostia; and Hildebrand, archdeacon of S. Paolo fuori le mura, who later became pope Gregory VII.
Virtually all of the figural illustration occurs in the Old Testament. Many of the books are dominated by full-length representations of prophets, patriarchs and kings. That the last three books of the Old Testament receive narrative representations, and that two of these are decidedly violent in nature, offers our hermeneutic starting point. In the image introducing the book of Judith (Pal. lat. 4, fol. 120v), the painter has focused on the climactic moment of the story: Judith’s decapitation of the intoxicated Holofernes. To explain the intention behind this image, this paper addresses literary exegesis, both early medieval and topical, as well as extant iconographic precedents. For example, Hrabanus Maurus in his Exposition on the Book of Judith likens the Jewish patriotic heroine to the Virgin Mary, the bride of Christ, and thus ecclesia, which destroys its enemies by decapitation, a trope that frequently occurs in Gregorian polemical literature against heretics. To regain control of its clergy, the Roman Church focused upon two practices in particular: simony, the purchase and sale of church offices, and nicolaitism, or clerical unchastity. Indeed, this image has not only political but also tropological significance, since Hrabanus Maurus likens the inebriated Holofernes, who is sprawled out on his bed, to luxuria.
The words of Peter Damian will form a fitting summation to the arguments presented in this paper. In a letter dating around 1065-66 to the Patarene leaders in Milan, that is, to those clerics who were supportive of the reformist efforts of the Roman Church, Damian provides a verbal parallel to the image in the Palatine Bible:
...my dear friends, as you struggle against the twofold battlefront of the devil’s
legion, do not let up, do not grow weary and basely lose heart. But like true
sons of Benjamin, who was called “the dexterous son, ” fight with your
accustomed bravery, using both hands, and with the sword of God’s word
decapitate the two-headed monster...
Here the bicephalic descriptor refers to the defeat of those active in the twin heresies of simony and nicolaitism. Moreover, it is not only the Church which is the active force behind their destruction, but the word of God, the holy Scripture, the text of the Palatine Bible itself.