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Bonnie Noble: Associate Professor, Art History - The University of North Carolina at Charlotte


The image of God as Architect of the world (folio 1 verso, Moralized Bible   Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna) shows Christ using the compass, a tool of the Gothic architect.  Against a golden ground, Christ bends over an orb, describing the circumference. In the sphere is a green outer rim bordered by a ribbon of blue, with an irregular green circling a yellow center. What appear to be a moon and a sun are in the green space on the upper left and right. Christ’s red cloak with orange lining flows behind his blue robe, as he holds the orb in his left hand and the compass in his right. His right foot steps out of the picture frame into the viewer’s space.  

Moralized Bibles contain Old and New Testament scenes, with explanations of the morals of the stories. Below the image of God as Architect, a text states in French rather than the more traditional Latin, “Here God creates heaven and earth, the sun and moon, and all the elements”.

Original Function and Meaning of Object

In the Gothic era, geometry was understood as an expression of divine law. Both human architecture and divine creation depend on the sacred geometry that is at the root of human and divine construction. In this image of Christ as an architect, Christ constructs the universe with the tools of geometry. Architects used these same geometrical tools to construct churches, the earthly dwellings of God. Gothic Cathedrals in particular were maps of the cosmos, the universe in microcosm, bringing together categories of human knowledge in sculptural programs and reconciling them with God’s plan for humanity. As God designed the universe, architects built cathedrals as a manifestation of divine creation.  

Subsequent Function and Meaning of Object

Paris was the intellectual center of Gothic Europe.  It’s university, which at the time was a new invention, was most likely derived from Middle Eastern institutions. Paris was also a center for architecture, sculpture, stained glass, and manuscript manufacturing, which had shifted from monasteries to city workshops (the prototypes for publishing houses). The Moralized Bible was a part of the burgeoning book trade, and as such functions as an index of the superb skills and expensive materials used in luxury manuscripts.

Influence of Object

The influence of this manuscript lies in the many manuscripts that share its style, for instance The moralized Bible of Blanche of Castile and Louis IX, 1226-1234 (Pierpont Morgan Library).

Additional Outside Resources

  • Gardner, Helen and Fred S. Kleiner. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History. Boston: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2009.
  • Stokstad, Marilyn. Medieval Art. 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004.
  • Stokstad, Marilyn, Michael Watt Cothren, and Frederick M. Asher. Art History. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall/Pearson, 2011.


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