Biblia Pauperum and Religious Iconography

Biblia pauperum, otherwise known as the Poor Man's Bible, were a type of block book that juxtaposed imagery from the Old Testament with that of the New Testament. Text was minimal so the focus was on the woodcut illustrations that made up most of the page. The embeddedness of Christian iconography in the Christian canon is what allows for the image of a woman and an angel in a room to immediately call to mind the moment that the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will bear the child of God. However that image and others like it were formed over a large period of time. This is a guide for those that wish to learn about Biblia pauperum and how the Christian iconography canon that it features came to be.


Biblia pauperum by Avril Henry Avril Henry's book is a facsimile that includes translations to contemporary readers experience what it was like to read a Biblia pauperum. Aside from the translations Henry also provides commentary on just how accessible the 'Poor Man's Bible' was for the poor man.

Biblia pauperum by Henrik Cornell Cornell takes on a typological approach in examining the content of the Biblia pauperum. He traces the development of iconography used in Biblia pauperum through non print forms like mosaics and paintings. Cornell forms his typologies by using a large sample size of manuscripts.

Armenbibeln des XIV. Jahrhunderts by Gerhard SchmidtTranslated as the 'Poor Bibles of the 14th Century', Schmidt's book addresses some of the issues with typologies that are noted by Cornell. He examines the origin, composition, content and analyzes the style of the illustrations of the Biblia pauperum.

Christian Iconography: a Study of Its Origins by Andre GrabarGrabar traces the development of Christian iconography over a 400 year period. Grabar finds that Christian iconography did not arise as an isolated phenomenon but that it has roots in Greco-Roman works and discusses how pagan iconography has been assimilated into Christianity.

Iconography of Christian Art by Gertrud Schiller The first volume of a set of two, Schiller's work focuses on the representations of Jesus Christ and his life. Schiller explores the intricate relationship of images and content and the idea that the richer the content, the more significant the form will be.

Digital Resources

Digitized Material from the Library of Congress Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection The Rosenwald Collection contains block books that have been digitized and are accessible to the general public for viewing. Note the repetition of iconography across the block books.

Woodcuts for Reading: The Codicology of Fifteenth-Century Blockbooks and Woodcut Cyclesby Nigel F. Palmer Palmer examines primarily the formatting of some block books and the woodcuts themselves instead of just on the content of the images and text. One interesting item that is examined is a Biblia pauperum that possibly used some pages as a poster.

Before the Apocalypse: German Prints and Illustrated Books, 1450-1500 by Cynthia A. Hall Germany is one of the locations that Biblia pauperum originated from. Hall discusses a short history of how woodcuts were used in printing devotional images in Germany.

New Testament Texts, Visual Material Culture, and Earliest Christian Artby Vernon K. Robbins Robbins presents a survey of the numerous works that have been done on the role that Christian iconography has on the growing focus and interpretation of the New Testament. Read this article for a quick overview of different approaches scholars have taken to study Christian art.

The Warburg Institute Iconographic DatabaseThe Warburg Institute at the University of London is in the process of digitizing their photographic collections relating to mythology and astrology. Their section of religious iconography demonstrates the how Christian iconography has proliferated throughout textual works.

Junius's blockbooks: copies of the "Biblia pauperum" and "Canticum canticorum" in the Bodleian Library and their place in the history of printingby Nigel F. PalmerPalmer uses items from the Bodleian Library collection to discuss the history of block books and place within the larger printing history.

Quick Reference

Z 240-241.5This is the Library of Congress call number for Block Books and Incunabula. Use this call number to search other library catalogs for items relating to them.

Biblia pauperum WikipediaA short entry on what the Biblia pauperum is and where it originated. Explains the type of relationship the images from the Old and New Testaments are supposed to have.

"How Was It Made? Woodcut Printing 1450-1520"Reading about the woodcut printing process can be overwhelming. While not a video about the printing of a Biblia pauperum, this Youtube video is a helpful visual aid for understanding woodcut printing process.

The BibleUse this BBC article if a basic understanding of the structure of the Bible is needed. It is a short article that discusses and differentiates the Old and New Testaments on a surface level.

Old Testament WikipediaNew Testament WikipediaPay particular attention to the 'Composition' and 'Theme' sections of the Old Testament page as it will help gain a basic understanding of the Old Testament without having to read it. For the New Testament page pay attention to the section 'Books' to gain a better understanding of the anatomy of that part of the Bible.

Old Testament SparkNotesNew Testament SparkNotesUse the SparkNotes websites for a more organized view of the structure of both testaments. You are also able to read summaries of every book and gospel to put the bible verses used in the Biblia pauperum into context.

"Old Testament vs. New Testament- What are the differences?" This Youtube video discusses the differences and similarities between the Old and New Testaments. It also demonstrates the how the testaments are related which is essential for understanding the format of the Biblia pauperum.