Curtain of the Tabernacle, one of six illustrated leaves from the Postilla Litteralis (Literal Commentary) of Nicholas of Lyra

Date: ca. 1360–1380

Culture: French

Medium: Opaque watercolor, iron-gall ink and gold on vellum

Dimensions: 16 1/2 x 9 3/4 in. (41.9 x 24.8 cm)
Mat: 22 × 16 in. (55.9 × 40.6 cm)

Classification: Manuscripts and Illuminations

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 2011

Accession Number: 2011.20.1


One of the most influential university texts of the Middle Ages, the Postilla litteralis (Literal Commentary) provided a systematic and detailed analysis of the entire Christian Bible. Its author, Nicholas of Lyra (ca. 1270–1349), taught theology at the University of Paris. No doubt impressed by the magnificent cathedrals in and around the city. Nicholas possessed a particular interest in divinely inspired architecture. His extensive commentary includes numerous diagrams meant to clarify the Bible's sometimes confusing textual descriptions of monuments. This leaf and five others acquired by the Museum in 2011 come from a deluxe edition of the Postilla that was probably handcrafted in Paris by the scribes and illustrators who catered to a university clientele. The text discusses God's directives in the book of Exodus for the building of the Tabernacle and the creation of its curtain: ten panels of "fine, twisted linen, and violet and purple, and scarlet twice-dyed." Without precisely rendering them, the artist evoked the sumptuous hues with concision and graphic boldness. The small circles of gold leaf glistening across the top and down the center suggest the rings of gold God prescribed to join the panels together.