New light on Henry VIII’s Great Bible

The Great Bible, printed during Henry VIII’s reign, is often seen as the quintessential artefact of the English Reformation. Instigated by Thomas Cromwell, it was printed in Paris and London, and disseminated to parish churches across the realm. Two lavish presentation copies were printed on vellum for Cromwell and Henry. Currently at St John’s College, Cambridge, and the National Library of Wales (NLW), their woodcuts and title pages were hand-coloured by highly skilled painters and/or illuminators, whose identity is however unknown. Despite their importance for studies of art, religion and culture, these copies have received little in-depth scholarly analysis and have never been subjected to any technical or scientific examination.

Financial support through a CVC research grant will allow transporting the NLW copy of the Bible to the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Analytical Laboratory. Following the extremely fruitful examination of its sibling copy, the scientific analysis of this book will shed light on Tudor art, religion and politics. The book’s presence in Cambridge will be accompanied by a specialist workshop, which will bring together leading art historians, conservators, book historians, and early modernists, for a joint, cross-disciplinary analysis of this important artefact. The project will result in one academic publication, public lectures, as well as an application for a major research project on these two Great Bibles and the context in which they were created.

*Image of Henry VIII by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge.