Manuscript: Codex Bongarsianus 318
Description Beasts Gallery Bibliography Jump to Home page Help Jump to Contents page Jump to Manuscript Index Search Previous beast Next beast
Burgerbibliothek Bern, Codex Bongarsianus 318
(The Bern Physiologus)

Produced: Reims, 825-850

Language: Latin

Scribe: Haecpertus

Binding: Vellum
Media: Parchment
Script: Clear ninth century minuscule

Folios: 131  Height:   cm   Width:   cm

Manuscript type: 

Location: Burgerbibliothek Bern (Bibliothèque De La Bourgeoisie De Berne), Bern, Switzerland

Family: n/a


Source: Florentine Müterlich, 1976 (Carolingian Painting) | Copyright 2003 Burgerbibliothek Bern | Folio 12v


The Physiologus is one of several texts in the manuscript; it runs from folio 7r to 22v. It is fully illustrated in color.

"The text is written in a clear ninth century minuscule, the headings and capitals are generally executed in red, and while the size, and possibly the quality, of the writing decreases toward the end of the manuscript, it was written by the same hand through folio 130 recto, where the signature of Haecpertus appears. ... We may conclude, then, that the manuscript was produced by the diligence of the orant Haecpertus, who, though he signs himself scriptor, implies that he also executed the miniatures in his statement me fecit, a phrase more common in connection with painting, carving, and the like, than with writing. ... One large ornamental letter of Franco-Saxon type occurs in the manuscript on folio 1 recto... The remainder of the illuminations is confined to the Physiologus. The text, which is illustrated, is divided into short chapters, each containing a description of the nature of an animal, often amounting to a fable, sometimes a Biblical reference, and always an allegory or parallel story from the Bible to show the religious significance of the animal... The illustrations, however, are limited to a delineation of the characteristics of the animals, and to the illustration of the fables, with the exception of the first, which illustrates the Biblical reference. ... The miniatures are painted in somewhat heavy opaque colors, which in many places have peeled off showing the underdrawing below. Most of the scenes are framed by a band of red and a band of black separated by a narrow white line. When the frame is omitted, the background painting too has been disregarded, and the figures appear directly against the vellum. Generally the figures are so placed that they occupy the forward plane, and stand out against a background of hills and sky, or sky alone. The sky itself is frequently marked with bands of color, the choice of colors and their arrangement suggesing different hours of the day, as dawn or sunset. Shadows, both in blue and brown, and light falling from a single angle lend an illusionistic aspect to the scenes. Some of the trees are naturalistic in their rendering, others have assumed more conventional forms. Many of the figures are well modeled, particularly about the face and hands; others have the features sketchily indicated. The animals show no hesitation in drawing, and were evidently based on clearly defined models. Particularly, it should be noticed that the figures and animals dominate the landscape and are actually too large in scale to give the impression of existence within real space. ... The Bern Physiologus has preserved for us a few traces of the illusionism of early Alexandrian painting--enough to determine the ultimate source from which the ninth century artist derived his style, and it has preserved, at least approximately, the original compositions." - The Physiologus of Bern: A Survival of Alexandrian Style in a Ninth Century Manuscript (1930) Woodruff, 1930

Editions and Facsimiles

Printed facsimiles: Physiologus Bernensis, voll-Faksimile-Ausg. des Codex Bongarsianus 318 der Burgerbibliothek Bern (Basel, 1964) Steiger & Homburger,1964


Description Beasts Gallery Bibliography Jump to Home page Help Jump to Contents page Jump to Manuscript Index Search Previous beast Next beast