PETRUS PICTAVIENSIS [PETER OF POITIERS]
Compendium historiae in genealogia Christi (A Compendium of History in the Genealogy of Christ)
In Latin, illuminated scroll on parchment
England (perhaps Oxford?), c. 1230-1250
Five diagrams, five circular miniatures, one rectangular miniature
This is an astonishing and beautiful illustrated early gothic chronicle scroll, originally intended to teach Europeans in the thirteenth century how biblical history was anchored in the Middle East. Before the twelfth century, few people in Western Europe had any realistic idea of where Old Testament history was set. This outlook was transformed both by the Crusades and by the radically new understanding of the Bible as a narrative work describing real people and historical events. Peter of Poitiers was the first and most famous exponent of this world view. His Compendium places Bible stories in a framework with the descents of the kings of Persia and Babylon, the rulers of Greece and the emperors of Rome. The format is astonishingly new: this is a roll, not like the scrolls of the ancient world to be read horizontally (such as the Jewish Torah), but vertically, in which the whole of history since Creation tumbles downwards like a waterfall. This became the model of all subsequent genealogies, even today.