Biblia pauperum

Collection History

The New York Public Library possesses one of the largest and finest collections of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts in North America, yet its manuscript holdings are scarcely known to scholars, much less to a wide public audience. Medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts are vehicles of the collective memory of western European culture, and provide a material connection between the scribes, illuminators, and patrons who produced these works and the audiences who view them today.

The works represent diverse genres, from Bibles and missals to romance literature and science texts. Dating from the turn of the 10th century until well into the period of the Renaissance, these works give vivid testimony to the creative impulses of the often nameless craftsmen who continually discovered new ways of animating the contents of hand-produced books through inventive and sometimes exuberant manipulations of all the elements of the book: form and format, layout, script, decoration, illustration, and binding.

Drawn from the Library's Spencer Collection and the Manuscripts and Archives Division, these works focus on the 9th through the 16th centuries -- seven hundred years of profound political, ecclesiastical, social, and intellectual change in Western Europe and the world. Among these rare items are a 10th-century Ottonian manuscript, with its imitation of Byzantine textile with gold decoration; the Towneley Lectionary, illuminated by Giulio Clovio (once praised as the "Michelangelo of small works"), which originated in Rome and probably belonged to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese; and a late 15th-century Book of Hours, which represents the leading style of illumination from Besançon, one of the French Regional Schools.


"The Digital Scriptorium" originated in the mid-1990s as an image database, intended to unite scattered resources from many institutions into an international tool for teaching and scholarly research. NYPL curators have augmented the Digital Scriptorium's primary documentation of NYPL's contribution of 259 manuscript parts with images of the works' most significant illuminations. Some works in this digital presentation also appeared in the exhibition, "The Splendor of the Word: Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts at The New York Public Library," held October 21, 2005 - February 12, 2006 in the Library's D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall.

- Collection History and Background text excerpted from the press release and exhibition catalog descriptions for "The Splendor of the Word: Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts at The New York Public Library."

Related Resources

Alexander, Jonathan J. G., James H. Marrow, and Lucy Freeman Sandler. The Splendor of the Word: Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts at The New York Public Library. (2005)

NYPL. "The Splendor of the Word: Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts at The New York Public Library." (2005-2006) <>

University of California, Berkeley. "The Digital Scriptorium." (c1996-2004) <>

Collection Data

Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1470 (Approximate)
Library locations
Spencer Collection
Shelf locator: Spencer Collection Ms. 031
Ownership: Owned by Jacques Rosenthal; afterwards in collection of Joseph Martini. Purchased for Spencer at Martini sale, 1934.
Content: Above, plus library dossier. Chart by Dr. G.B. Guest.
Content: Folio i is also vellum, an added opening leaf according to note in dossier.
Content: 2 columns of approximately 29 lines each (all columns broken by illustrations and text varies in length). Rulings in light brown ink. Collation: two quinternions.
Content: Parchment
Content: 38 pen and ink drawings showing biblical scenes.
Content: 3-line blue and red initials with opposing color penwork. Red and blue sentence markers. Rubrics.
Content: Notes in dossier and NYPL catalog date to the second half of the 15th century, some to ca. 1470.
Content: This ms. significant because it was long believed that the Biblia pauperum did not arrive in Italy from N. Europe until the 16th century. This ms. shows that the form was known in Italy in the 15th century -- it probably was based on a northern model.
Content: [Biblia pauperum. (Small-scale picture book of Bible instruction. Scenes from Old and New Testaments, texts in Latin, and glosses in Italian).]
Physical Description
Extent: Ff. i + 20, 224 x 156mm.
Type of Resource
Still image
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 457f28c0-c609-012f-76ca-58d385a7bc34
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