King Solomon's Red Robes

University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives. For a digitization of the entire book, see:

Biblia cum concordatiis veteris et noui testamenti, 1511, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon. Burgess 026.

At first, you may think this hand-colored woodcut has you seeing double: we have Solomon resting at the focal point clothed in royal red robes, and to the left yet another Solomon writing scripture. Biblical context explains this seemingly erroneous depiction. Solomon meditates with the Lord, and through that peacefulness he pens scripture. The artist responsible for three-fourths of the 384 woodcuts in this Vulgate edition, known as the “Pico Master,” began his illustrious career illuminating deluxe manuscripts. However, his acute attention to detail and artistic vision remain prevalent in these woodcuts. The Pico Master’s style in this image reflects the atmosphere of the Church in this era; look closely at the resting dog in the lower right corner and the expressions of the unarmed guards surrounding Solomon. This is an image of peace and contemplation, the calm before the chaos of the Protestant Reformation. The sheer volume of color in this object is impressive, but discrepancies in illumination between our archive’s edition and those of other collections suggest they were not colored at the time of publication. Color is not the only transformations of this work, as its pages are marked with Latin marginalia and beginnings of chapters are denoted with leather tabs. Signs of ownership indicate this bible passed through a monastery a few years after its publication, was possessed by a nobleman in 1560 (perhaps after monasteries disbanded in the Reformation), and finally ended up in the Order of the Minims, likely in the 17th century. 

Sadie Kavalier