The ‘Great Bible’

Posted by on June 13, 2017 in Blog | 2 comments

20th May 2017 was the 800th anniversary of the second Battle of Lincoln. Said to be one of the most decisive battles in English history it secured the future of the Plantagenet dynasty. It has been celebrated in the city by a host of events, not least of which is a fascinating exhibition called, appropriately, Battles and Dynasties.

There are some remarkable exhibits – the Domesday Book (above, photo courtesy of The National Archives), the warrant for the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, Holbein’s drawings of Anne Boleyn, Van Dyck’s triple portrait of Charles I and some wonderful illuminated manuscripts, including the ‘Great Bible’.

The Great Bible, British Library, London

The Bible, BL Royal 1 E ix, was made in the early fifteenth century and, at a massive 630mm tall, is the biggest Bible in the Royal Collection. It is a truly impressive volume and the illuminations are exquisite. I was asked by Lord Cormack of the Historic Lincoln Trust to recreate some of the historiated initials using, as far as was feasible, materials and techniques that would have been used when the Bible was made.

Here are a few of them –

Illumination by Toni Watts from the Great Bible
Illuminated M from the Great Bible
Illuminated I from the Great Bible

Created with 24 carat gold leaf on manuscript gesso made to a fifteenth century recipe and pigments including lapis lazuli, red ochre, yellow ochre, burnt sienna and vermillion. Detailing done in handmade shell gold.

Top left: Jesus before Pilate f.282r

Top right: The Creation f.3v

Left: illuminated Mf.239v

Some of the illuminations (currently two until they get a larger cabinet!) can be seen at The Collection, Danes Terrace, Lincoln, until September 3rd this year – the details are here.

For more information about the exhibition have a look at these posts from the British Library, Historic Lincoln Trust and The National Archives.

With many thanks to The British Library, London, for allowing me to work with one of their beautiful manuscripts.


  1. Yet again, wonderful work Toni.

    hope you are well.

    • Thanks so much Vanda – lovely to hear from you as always!

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