German Bible. Strasbourg, c. 1470

[Strasbourg: Heinrich Eggestein,
not after 1470]. (06166)

The fifteenth-century decoration at the bottom of the first leaf in Bridwell Library’s copy of Eggestein’s German Bible is of exceptional interest. At the center, a king genuflects toward the left in an attitude of adoration; at the left is a column supporting a demon labeled “Molach”; and to the right is an African woman in fancy dress. The scene is the Idolatry of King Solomon, described in I Kings 11:4-8: “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods... Then Solomon built an high place [...] for Molech, the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so did he for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.”

During the fifteenth century, the sacrilegious behavior of the wise King Solomon at the behest of his pagan wives became a popular subject within a series of images known as the “Power of Women.” These historical episodes of inverted gender roles were meant not to elevate the status of women, but to lampoon great men who are powerless against the charms of the “weaker” sex. The depiction of Solomon’s wife with dark skin is highly unusual in European art of this period.

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Printing in Germany
German Bible. Strasbourg, c. 1470