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medieval imaginations:
literature and visual culture in the middle ages



picture data:

medium: printed book 
date: 15th century
episodes: All
owner/location: Bodleian Library, Oxford
catalogue information: Bodleian Library Ms Auct. M.III.13
related images:

Garden of Eden: Temptation

Image 423 The opening page from a 15th-century Netherlandish 'Biblia Pauperum' ('Bible of the Poor'), a blockbook, in which text and pictures were printed from woodblocks and then hand-coloured. The 'Biblia Pauperum' presents 40 New Testament scenes, or 'Antitypes', each flanked by two Old Testament scenes that prefigure them as a way of showing that events in the past were divinely intended to foreshadow the future. This system of such 'typological' connections between biblical events, pervasive in much medieval art and literature, is succinctly expounded in the 'Biblia Pauperum'. Despite its title, this learned book was evidently not itself for the simple, bookless poor, but it both drew upon and further popularized a mode of understanding that could teach effectively those who could read little or not at all. Here (left) the Temptation of Eve is understood as a constrasting type of the Annunciation scene in the centre, while (right) the fall of dew on Gideon's fleece is a parallel. Eve subjects man to evil by her disobedient trust in the serpent; Mary reverses that subjection by her obedient belief in Gabriel's message, so that 'EVA' becomes 'AVE', in the common medieval pun. The serpent is represented as alarmingly erect because not yet cursed by God (who watches from the tree). The righthand scene shows Gideon, who prayed that - as a sign that God would save Israel by Gideon's hand - God would send a fall of dew on to a fleece (Judges 6:36-8). As the text top right exlains, this 'prefigured the glorious Virgin Mary made pregnant without violation, by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit'. Or as the 15th-century carol puts it: 'He cam also stille | Ther his moder was, | As dew in Aprille | That falleth on the gras'. In the four scrolls are prophetic texts: Isaiah 7:14; Psalms 71(72):6; Ezekiel 44:2; and Jeremiah 31:22 ('The Lord has created a new order of things on earth: woman is to be the protectress of man'). Henry, 1987, p. 50

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further reading:
Henry, A. (ed.), Biblia Pauperum: A Facsimile Edition, Aldershot 1987