Why an Internet Biblia Pauperum?

When Professor Donald Ehresmann first suggested to me a research project on the Biblia Pauperum (coinciding with a graduate seminar on Medieval Iconography at the University of Illinois at Chicago ), I was intrigued both by its name and its seeming obscurity.

A Bible for the Poor, it sounded like, a picture book for the masses! Of course I soon realized my error, but still I was intrigued by the mass-production aspect of this complex, scholarly book in the days before mass-produced books.

I decided that part of my presentation would be to recreate pages from the Biblia Pauperum for my fellow "poor" scholars of iconography, replacing the abbreviated, blackletter, Latin text with legible, completed vernacular English. (I found James Marchand's e-text version on the web-- no longer available-- and have used it freely for this purpose.) By actually recreating and republishing the text, I hoped to gain a fresh primary perspective on the contemplative relationship between image and text, between scribe and scholar.

In the process, I discovered also the limitations of technology on art and publishing then and now, the value of long hours relentlessly staring at images, and the capacity of ideas to find new ways of expressing themselves through time.

The result for the class was (what else?) a set of Xeroxes from Kinko's-- both cheap and utilitarian, but also a very good recreation of the crisp lines and contrasts of the original woodcuts. Of course, while the final Xeroxes were cheap, the technology to create the files weren't: scanner, computer, image editing and drawing software. My colleagues were delighted.

Now, I have expanded that original idea to create the Internet Biblia Pauperum. I have reformatted Prof. Marchand's text so that each page can be read in a table, roughly equivalent to the diagrammatic structure of the original Biblia Pauperum page.

More exciting, though, are the pages with images (so far there are 9 pages...only time prevents me from completing the set). These images are indexed and mapped, so when you click on a section (the top prophets, the middle scene, or the bottom prophets), you will see that detail open up in the right window. Now, pass your mouse over the image in the places where there is text (this is called a "mouseover")... the English translation appears! More importantly perhaps, it disappears, reverting back to the original Latin when you move your mouse away. This process has the advantage of preserving the visual integrity of the image, while allowing the English reader to think about the text in his or her own language.

So now the Biblia Pauperum truly is for "the paupers". While I doubt this site will be stealing very many surfers from ebay.com or the South Park websites, I hope it will attract some of the many people interested in medieval art, typology, iconography, and the art of the book.

Go to the Internet Biblia Pauperum!

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This page was last edited on August 8, 2001.
Please send any comments to me at manning@amasis.com