Manuscript Illumination with Initial V, from a Bible

Date: ca. 1175–95

Geography: Made in Burgundy, France

Culture: French

Medium: Tempera on parchment

Dimensions: Overall: 10 13/16 x 6in. (27.5 x 15.2cm)
Mat size: 19 1/4 x 14 1/4 in. (48.9 x 36.2 cm)

Classification: Manuscripts and Illuminations

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1999

Accession Number: 1999.364.2


This initial comes from a five-volume Bible, imposing in size and vigorously decorated, that belonged to the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny. In the twelfth century, this monastery in the diocese of Sens was a scholar's haven and had a celebrated library.

The initial signaled the opening of the Book of Leviticus: Vocavit autem Moysen, et locutus est di Dominus de tabernaculo (And the Lord called Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle). In lieu of gold or figural imagery, which were eschewed by the Cistercian order, the letter presents a bold palette and vibrant juxtapositions of color. With robust striding lions posed at the center of encircled vines, it has all the energy of a coiled spring.