The Winchester Bible: A Masterpiece of Medieval Art

Opening for the Book of Jeremiah (detail), Jeremiah receives his prophecy from God. Winchester Bible, fol. 148r.
Tempera and gold on parchment. Winchester Cathedral Priory of Saint Swithun, ca. 1150–80.
Lent by the Chapter of Winchester Cathedral. Image: © The Chapter of Winchester Cathedral

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
December 9, 2014-March 8, 2015


Exhibition location: Medieval Europe Gallery (Gallery 304)
Press preview: Monday, December 8, 10:00 a.m.–noon


Masterfully illuminated pages from two volumes of the magnificent, lavishly ornamented Winchester Bible—a pivotal landmark of medieval art from around 1200—will be shown at The Metropolitan Museum of Art for three months, beginning December 9, in the exhibition The Winchester Bible: A Masterpiece of Medieval Art.  Probably commissioned around 1155–60 by the wealthy and powerful Henry of Blois (1129–1171), who was the Bishop of Winchester (and grandson of William the Conqueror and King Stephen’s brother), the manuscript is the Cathedral’s single greatest surviving treasure. Renovations at Winchester Cathedral provide the opportunity for these pages, which feature the Old Testament, to travel to New York. This presentation marks the first time the work will be shown in the United States. At the Metropolitan Museum, the pages of one bound volume will be turned once each month; three unbound bi-folios with lavish initials from the other volume—which is currently undergoing conservation—will be on view simultaneously for the duration of the exhibition. 

The exhibition is made possible by the Michel David-Weill Fund.  
The Winchester Bible has been lent by The Chapter of Winchester Cathedral.

A highlight of the presentation will be the display of an elaborately illustrated double-sided frontispiece—long separated from the Bible and now in the collection of the Morgan Library & Museum in New York—that features scenes from the life of David and Samuel. Works of art from the Metropolitan Museum’s own collection—medieval sculpture, goldsmith work, ivories, stained glass, and other examples of manuscript illumination—will provide a larger context for the two volumes.

The Winchester Bible consists of four bound volumes whose pages measure approximately 23 inches high by 15 inches wide (58 by 39 centimeters). The text of 468 folios was written over a period of 30 years by a single scribe with at least six different gifted painters applying expensive pigments, including lapis lazuli and gold, to calf-skin parchment. Their ambitious work was never completed. 

The exhibition is organized by Charles T. Little, Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. Exhibition design is by Daniel Kershaw, Exhibition Design Manager; graphics are by Constance Norkin, Graphic Design Manager; lighting is by Clint Ross Coller and Richard Lichte, Lighting Design Managers, all of the Museum’s Design Department.

Programs and Publication
Education programs organized to complement the exhibition include a Sunday at the Met on February 8, gallery talks, and a gallery conversation. These are free with Museum admission. In addition, a one-day Studio Workshop on techniques used in medieval manuscripts will take place on December 14 ($95, advance registration required). A SPARK program on March 2 will focus on the materials and creation of illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages ($30). 

The exhibition will be featured on the website of the Metropolitan Museum ( Through a series of regular blog posts, specialists will address aspects of the history and meaning of the Winchester Bible. 

A related book, The Winchester Bible: The First 850 Years, written by Canon Chancellor Roland Reim and published by the Winchester Cathedral Trust, will be available at the Museum’s book shops ($17.95, paperback). 

Join the conversation with the Met on Facebook (#metmuseum), Instagram (@metmuseum), and Twitter (@metmuseum) via the hashtag #WinchesterBible.



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