A Nostalgic Filter: A University of Pittsburgh Exhibition

Morgan Crusader Bible

New York, Morgan Library and Museum, MS M. 638

This lavish manuscript, likely conceived as a picture book without text, was produced in a Paris workshop associated with French royalty. Though showing the current armor and weaponry of 13th-century warfare – lending it the ‘crusader’ moniker – the book actually shows stories from the Old Testament. Inscriptions added by owners over time testify to the book’s provenance: Latin text was added in Italy before the book was sold to a Polish cardinal; Persian translations date to the era when it was in the collection of Shah ‘Abbas; Judeo-Persian lettering reflects the book’s purchase by Jewish Iranian merchants. The successive Christian, Muslim, and Jewish owners of the book shared reverence for biblical kings like David, shown defeating Goliath. On the page below, a captain in the Philistine army is shown as a Black African with a fantastical gilded helmet, perhaps an allusion to the famed gold mines of Mali. 

Belle da Costa Greene (1883-1950), longtime personal librarian to JP Morgan, bought this book with funds from his estate in 1916. This proved a significant milestone in the history of the collection, as it was the first major manuscript purchased after Morgan’s death in 1913. When the Morgan Library & Museum was established in 1924, Greene was named its founding director and remained in that position until her retirement in 1948. Though she passed as white throughout her career, Greene is now recognized as the first Black woman to be named a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America and perhaps the first Black museum director in the city of New York. 

A few pages had been cut from the manuscript and sold separately long before it entered the Morgan collection; one of these is now in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum. The leaves that have since been identified are included as if returned to their original context in the facsimile edition, but it remains an open question whether further pages from the manuscript are still missing and may be irretrievably lost.

This manuscript has been fully digitized and is available at the website of Morgan Library & Museum.

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