Fragment of a Compendium of the Genealogy of Christ

Date: ca. 1230

Culture: British

Medium: Ink on vellum

Dimensions: Overall: 65 9/16 x 13 1/16 in. (166.5 x 33.2 cm)
Framed: 76 1/2 x 23 x 2 1/4 in. (194.3 x 58.4 x 5.7 cm)

Classification: Manuscripts and Illuminations

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 2002

Accession Number: 2002.433


This manuscript, linking biblical history with the genealogy of Christ, conveys the scholastic tradition of the medieval university context from which it derived. Written by Peter of Poitiers, chancellor at the University of Paris from 1193 to 1205, the Compendium Historiale in Genealogia Christi was essentially an abridgment of biblical history for students in the form of a genealogical tree of Christ. It was frequently copied in vertical roll and illustrated with line drawings and diagrams, as is this English example. The history of the world is organized into six ages, each introduced in the manuscript with a line drawing. This fine pen rendering of the Nativity illustrates the sixth age—that of the Incarnation of Christ. The other figurative drawings in the manuscript represent the kings of David and Zedekiah.

Diagrams were important tools for medieval thinkers, and the manuscript is enlivened with examples representing the Mansions in the Desert (the forty-two places the Israelites stopped over a period of three years during the Exodus), the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and the city of Jerusalem. In creating his compendium, with its complex interplay of word and image, Peter of Poitiers made a lasting contribution to both scholarship and pedagogy.