Manuscript: Bible from St Paul
Provenance: Reims (?). c. 870, fol. 8v
Library: Abbazia di San Paolo fuori le mura, Rome
One of the most important works representing the Carolingian style is the immense bible which is today in the Abbey of St Paul in Rome. It is truly an imperial manuscript, lavishly furnished with four Canon Tables, 24 title illustrations of both the Old and the New Testaments and, not least, 36 magnificent initial pages with a special rhythmic ornamentation which, by the counter play of shining pure gold, provides splendid testimony to the art of Carolingian book-painting.
This impressive initial page cites: INCIPIT LIBER BRESIT ID EST GENESEOS – ‘here begins the book of Bresith that is Genesis’. The golden letters on a purple background are carefully graduated in size. Golden tendrils with small, coloured ornaments play around the letters and build a carpet-like design.
For historic as well as stylistic reasons it seems most likely that the workshop where the bible was created was the scriptorium of Reims.
The artistic traditions of the North were combined with those of the Roman Antique, including Byzantium. The Reims style made use of insular (Irish and Scottish) letter forms and ornament particularly, incorporating them into the principles of design, the formal arrangement and the details of classical antique patterns. This can be seen well in the splendid Incipit pages such as the grand Initial page to genesis from the Bible of St Paul.