Browse Exhibits (1 total)

The Interplay of Warfare and Piety During the Reign of Louis IX

The Morgan Picture Bible and the Psalter of Louis IX both were produced for Louis IX during his reign in the thirteenth century.  He is often hailed as the most Christian king. Primary documents produced by contemporaries or near-contemporaries of Louis IX provide written testaments to the emphasis the French king placed upon victorious Christian warfare; they also provide numerous accounts of the lengths the king went to in order to maintain his standards of Christian piety. 

Louis IX’s desire to emulate the ideal Christian king remained at the forefront of his artistic commissions. The Morgan Picture Bible and the Psalter of Louis IX, members of a larger family of artworks commissioned by Louis IX, demonstrate the king’s deep concern with Old Testament typology through their shared iconographic programs.However, the manuscripts concentrate on different aspects and narrative points of the same stories, which results in initially distinctive concepts of ideal kingship. The almost excessive emphasis on physical violence in the Morgan Picture Bible suggests Louis IX’s military prowess as the ideal Christian soldier, while the comparatively tame warfare and the special designation of devotional scenes in the Psalter of Louis IX suggest his concern with the pious Christian life. Interpreted together, the manuscripts demonstrate the linked duality inherent in Louis IX’s commitment to holy rule, where the roles of holy war and piety merge to form a multifaceted definition of Christian kingship.

According to Gerald B. Guest’s comparison, the two manuscripts in this study share similar subject matter drawing from the biblical narratives found in Genesis through 1 and 2 Samuel; due to the prevalence of shared themes between the manuscripts, Louis IX certainly was familiar with the stories and their moral implications for Christian kingship.2 The Old Testament rulers served as models for the monarch, comprising interpretive programs on which Louis IX meditated on his position as leader of the French, who were considered blessed by God to become the chosen people, or “Ancient Israelites,” of the thirteenth century.3 In his 1239 letter to Louis IX, Pope Gregory IX vividly compares the ancient people to the contemporary French tasked with combating the nonbelievers. Evoking the steadfast faith and strong convictions of the Old Testament figures, the pope affirmed the French kingdom’s duty to oppose unholy pagans and to reclaim and defend the Holy Land from infidel conquest.4

As the leader of the chosen people, Louis IX especially considered parallels with the Old Testament kings, evident in the artistic productions during his reign. Scholarly studies have investigated the prevalence of Old Testament imagery in many of his commissions. William Chester Jordan’s article on the illuminated program of the Psalter of Louis IX is one of the seminal studies demonstrating the king’s deliberate identification with and reflection upon the biblical rulers’ lives, especially Joseph, whose biblical life and leadership provided a metaphor for the French monarch’s personal history.5 “Louis IX, crusade and the promise of Joshua in the Holy Land,” by M. C. Gaposchkin, examines Louis’ connection with Joshua in context of the monarch’s ambitious goals for his first crusade and in the wake of the expedition’s subsequent failure which Louis attributed to his own personal sinfulness.6 Rightly limiting the scope of their articles to generally focus on a narrow range of works, the authors above have contributed to the larger body of interconnected scholarship that supports the shifting nature of knowledge and the constant reworking of interpretations Louis IX’s life and rule. The exhibition draws from this multitude of analyses to compare the Morgan Picture Bible and the Psalter of Louis IX, both of which were produced during the reign of Louis IX and illuminated in Northern France, and consist of similar material (the Morgan manuscript is composed of vellum folios, while the Psalter possesses parchment pages.) This exhibition will provide a means to visually juxtapose folios from both manuscripts that depict the same biblical story.

The Morgan bible, with numerous folios illustrating the violence and intensity of thirteenth-century warfare, presents an interpretive scheme highlighting the military prowess of the biblical leaders and, by extension, Louis IX. The illuminations of the Psalter depicting Abraham, Joshua, and Saul provided an opportunity for Louis to reflect upon their righteous deeds and to meditate on how his own piety may parallel that of his holy models.

1- For elaboration on the iconographic relationships between works attributed to Louis IX’s patronage, see Gerald B. Guest, “The People Demand a King: Visualizing Monarchy in the ‘Psalter of Louis IX’,” Studies in Iconography 23 (2002): 3.; David H. Weiss, “Biblical History and Medieval Historiography: Rationalizing Strategies in Crusader Art,” MLN 108, no. 4 (1993): 715-716, 734.

2- Guest, “The People Demand a King,” 3-4.

3- Louis IX’s identification with Old Testament kings and the equation of the French people with the Ancient Israelites has been the subject of countless scholarly studies.  See Beat Brenk, “The Sainte-Chapelle as a Capetian Political Program,” in Artistic Integration in Gothic Buildings, eds. Kathryn Brush, Peter Draper, and Virginia Chieffo Raguin (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1995), 196.; M. C. Gaposchkin, “Louis IX, crusade and the promise of Joshua in the Holy Land,” Journal of Medieval History 34 (2008): 245-274; Guest, “The People Demand a King,” 1-27.; Caroline Smith, Crusading in the Age of Joinville (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 126-131.

4- Pope Gregory IX, "Letter to Louis IX." Quoted in M. C. Gaposchkin, “Louis IX, crusade and the promise of Joshua in the Holy Land,” Journal of Medieval History 34 (2008): 245-274. 

5- William Chester Jordan, “The Psalter of Saint-Louis (BN MS. Lat. 10525): the program of the 78 full-page illustrations,” ACTA 7 (1980): 65.

6- Gaopschkin, “Louis IX,” 246.