Skip to content

Unveiling the Anjou Bible with modern imaging at KU Leuven

The origins of the Anjou Bible

The Anjou Bible, created around 1340 in Naples, is a masterpiece of medieval art and a prime example of the cultural flourishing at the Angevin court. The manuscript was commissioned as a gift for Robert I of Anjou’s granddaughter Johanna and her future husband Andreas of Hungary. It served not only as a religious text but also as an “éducation de princesse,” providing guidance on court life and legitimizing Robert’s rule. The Bible features stunning miniatures, decorated initials, and elaborate margin decorations, showcasing the skills of copyist Iannutius de Matrice and master miniaturist Cristophoro Orimina.

After a tumultuous history involving murder and political intrigue, the Bible eventually found its way to KU Leuven’s Maurits Sabbe Library. There, it has become the subject of intensive research using cutting-edge imaging technologies developed by the university’s Book Heritage Lab and Imaging Lab.

Revealing the unseen through Microdome imaging

One of the key technologies employed is the Microdome, a device featuring 228 white LEDs that illuminate the manuscript from various angles. This allows researchers to create dynamic virtual images that reveal details of relief and texture invisible to the naked eye. The Microdome is a smaller version of a dome originally developed for imaging cuneiform tablets, adapted specifically for manuscript research.

Insights into the Anjou Bible at KU Leuven
The Microdome makes it possible to photograph an object with a wide range of different lighting angles and conduct research on miniatures. © KU Leuven – RS

Beyond the visible spectrum: Multispectral imaging

Multispectral imaging, which uses different types of light from ultraviolet to infrared, has also been employed to study the Bible. This technique helps researchers distinguish and identify pigments and inks used in the manuscript. For example, it revealed the use of costly lapis lazuli for ultramarine blue in addition to the more common azurite.

New findings

These imaging techniques have led to several important discoveries:

  • The researchers gained new insights into the miniaturists’ techniques, including their use of gesso layers for raised gold areas and their virtuosic layering of materials and colors.
  • Multispectral imaging made visible a scratched-out ex libris of Jean de Berry, a French duke who owned the manuscript around 1400. This provides valuable information about the Bible’s provenance.
  • Analysis of remnants of the original coat of arms on several folios suggests that the Bible’s patron may have been the Di Capua family, rather than King Robert himself as previously thought. This sheds new light on the political dynamics of the Angevin court.

A new platform for manuscript research

The collaboration between the Book Heritage Lab and the Imaging Lab has been formalized as VIEW, a KU Leuven Core Facility. The team is developing an online platform to share their research results, allowing other scholars to access and analyze the imaging data.

The researchers continue to improve their technologies, with a new, more portable “Nanodome” in development. This will allow for easier on-site imaging of fragile or valuable manuscripts that cannot be transported.

Exhibiting history: The Anjou Bible at KU Leuven

To make the Anjou Bible more accessible, a limited edition facsimile has been created based on high-resolution images. This allows researchers and honored guests to experience the manuscript without risking damage to the original.

KU Leuven researchers make insights into the Anjou Bible
The border decoration is a multi-coloured jumble of figures. Photo: layers of damaged gold leaf were fixed during the conservation project in 2008. © KU Leuven – Lieve Watteeuw

As to the original, great care is taken to preserve the Anjou Bible. It is only exhibited once every five years, with different folios shown each time to minimize light exposure. The next planned exhibition will be in 2025, as part of KU Leuven’s 600th-anniversary celebrations.

View the Anjou Bible yourself

You can view the digital version of the Anjou Bible online here.

6 thoughts on “Unveiling the Anjou Bible with modern imaging at KU Leuven”

Add your comment or question:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.