Jean Fouquet (141?-80?) was the greatest French painter of the 15th century. His genius is reflected in his illustrations of Jewish Antiquities, which Fouquet created for Jacques d’Armagnac, the Duke of Nemours. Fouquet traveled to Italy as a young man, where he learned to paint with great precision of detail and to use aerial perspective, but he continued to draw upon his native Touraine for many aspects of his art, especially forms and color. In these illustrations, his depiction of the siege of Jericho evokes a city on the banks of the Loire, while his Temple of Jerusalem resembles an altered Cathedral of Tours. Jewish Antiquitieswas written by the first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (38?-100?) and recounts the history of the Jewish people from Creation to the outbreak of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in A.D. 66. Composed in Greek and translated into Latin, the book was read by the early Christians and remained popular with both Christians and Jews. This manuscript belonged to the French king Francis I (1494-1547), who confiscated it in 1523 from Charles III, the Duke of Bourbon (1490-1527).
Has your cat ever walked across your keyboard? Well, it’s not a new problem. Medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel recently Tweeted this photo of a 15th century book with –you guessed it– cat paw prints in ink on the pages! We’re part of a long and glorious historical movement, friends. (Source: Dr. Marty Becker)
The Codex Gigas (or ‘Giant Book") is also known as “The Devil’s Bible.” A curious illustration of Lucifer gives the tome its nickname.
The 13th-century manuscript is thought to have been created solely by a Herman the Recluse, a monk of the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice near Chrudim in Czech Republic. The calligraphy style is amazingly uniform throughout, believed to have taken 25 to 30 years of work. There are no notable mistakes or omissions. Pigment analysis revealed the ink to be consistent throughout. The book is enormous - it measures 36.2" tall, 19.3" wide, and 8.6" thick; it weighs approximately 165 pounds. There are 310 vellum leaves (620 pages). The leaves are bound in a wooden folder covered with leather and ornate metal.
The manuscript is elaborately illuminated in red, blue, yellow, green and gold. The entire document is written in Latin, and also contains Hebrew, Greek, and Slavic Cyrillic and Glagolitic alphabets. The first part of the text includes the Vulgate version of the Bible. Between the Old and New Testaments are Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews and De bello iudaico, as well as Isidore of Seville’s encyclopedia Etymologiae and medical works of Hippocrates, Theophilus, Philaretus, and Constantinus. Following a blank page, the New Testament commences.
Beginning the second part is a depiction of the devil. Directly opposite is a full picture of the kingdom of heaven, juxtaposing the “good versus evil." The second half, following the picture of the devil, is Cosmas of Prague’s Chronicle of Bohemia. A list of brothers in the Podlažice monastery and a calendar with necrologium, magic formulae and other local records round out the codex. Record entries end in the year 1229CE.
In 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the Swedish army invaded Prague and the Codex was stolen as plunder. It is now held at the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm. For more information, check out this short National Geographic documentary and/or flip through this digital copy.
** If you have the least amount of intellectual curiosity or interest in history, the short vids above will only whet your appetite: might as well grab a cold drink & some popcorn, then settle in to watch the whole thing ~
Book of Hours: Images of the Life of Christ and the Saints
This manuscript, a book of hours from the late 13th century, is comprised of 87 full-page illuminations illustrating scenes from the life of Christ and the lives of saints. The book is a Cistercian church calendar in Latin. The other text to be found in the work is a short caption under each image. When it was first created, the codex included 90 illuminations. A masterpiece of gothic illumination, the manuscript shows how important religious images were for the devotions of its owner. This most likely was a wealthy lay woman, probably Marie de Rethel, lady of Enghien (circa 1231−1315), who lived in Mons, in the county of Hainaut and diocese of Cambrai. Another possible owner could have been Marie of Gavre, a Cistercian from Wauthier-Braine near Nivelles, also in the diocese of Cambrai. The paintings are by two artists: Master Henri and an anonymous painter who was, however, more involved in the work and who painted the most beautiful illustrations. The style of the illuminations shows influences from the artistic traditions of France, England, and the Holy Roman Empire. The presence of local saints such as Gertrude of Nivelles (626−59), Waudru (died circa 688), Lambert, and others links the manuscript to the diocese of Cambrai.
I literally just find stuff like going through illuminated manuscripts (this one’s 179 pages) into the wee hours sometimes. They aren’t labeled, tagged, or marked in any way. No one told me they were there. And then I find something like this, and I get to share it with all of you.
Bonaventure de Bagnoregio (circa 1217−74), the great Franciscan theologian also known as “the Seraphic Doctor,” began writing Legenda major sancti Francisci (The life and miracles of Saint Francis of Assisi) in 1260. He compiled documents and testimonies from former companions of Saint Francis who were still alive. This manuscript in small format is an anonymous translation of this work from Latin into French. The name of its recipient is unknown, but it is known that she was a private individual, most likely a lady from high society, as folio 91 verso seems to indicate. The manuscript is well written in a bold bastard script, 25 lines to a page, on 143 leaves. It is magnificently decorated with 14 large and beautifully painted miniatures (two with borders) illustrating the first part of the manuscript, covering the life of Saint Francis, and 49 miniatures in the second part, illustrating his miracles. The two large miniatures with borders show Saint Francis giving his clothes to a beggar and Saint Francis receiving the stigmata. Before him kneels the figure of the lady for whom the book was executed. A piece has been cut from the lower margin of each of the leaves, apparently removing the coat-of-arms. The illumination was done in Anjou. The work is reminiscent of the Beaussant family altar piece, which can be viewed in the treasure room of the Angers Cathedral.
Medieval evenings were as dark as ours. However, with no electricity and smaller windows, rooms - libraries - will generally have been dark places back then. This is why we frequently encounter candle wax on the pages of medieval books. Looking at such yellow blobs, like the one on this image, it’s not hard to imagine the medieval reader bent over his book, holding a candle. In this case to read a law text and scribble clarifying notes between the lines. A bit of wax to illuminate the law.
Pic (my own): Liverpool University, Sydney Jones Library, MS 4.20 (Italy, 13th century)
Martianus Capella can best be understood in terms of the reputation of his book.The work was read, taught, and commented upon throughout the early Middle Ages and shaped European education during the early medieval period and the Carolingian Renaissance.
Martianus Minneus Felix Capella was a Latin prose writer of Late Antiquity, one of the earliest developers of the system of the seven liberal arts that structured early medieval education. According to Cassiodorus, he was a native of Madaura—which had been the native city of Apuleius—in the Roman province of Africa (now Souk Ahras, Algeria). He appears to have practiced as a jurist at Carthage.
As early as the end of the fifth century, another African, Fulgentius, composed a work modeled on it. A note found in numerous manuscripts—written by one Securus Memor Felix, who was intending to produce an edition—indicates that by about 534 the dense and convoluted text of De nuptiis had already become hopelessly corrupted by scribal errors. (Michael Winterbottom suggests that Securus Memor’s work may be the basis of the text found in “an impressive number of extant books” written in the ninth century.)
Another sixth-century writer, Gregory of Tours, attests that it had become virtually a school manual.In his 1959 study, C. Leonardi catalogued 241 existing manuscripts of De nuptiis, attesting to its popularity during the Middle Ages.
The first letter of a medieval text was often made to look like a picture. In these examples the capital letters are filled with action figures doing all sorts of gymnastic exercises. There is something special about them, because they are all taken not from regular medieval books but from so-called Alphabet Books. These objects were used by decorators: they provided patterns for each letter of the alphabet, in a variety of themes. The decorator picked a letter that he (or his client) liked and duplicated it onto the page he was working on. The diversity of styles is clear from the examples above, which are taken from three different late-medieval pattern books: some are funny, others serious. Most of them feature people in uncomfortable positions, as if they are attending yoga class. These one-letter shows acted as eye candy at the outset of the text: they got the reader in just the right mood.
The images above are from three sources: the Macclesfield Alphabet Book (London, British, Library, MS 8887), fully browsable here; Giovannino de’ Grassi’s notebook (Bergamo, Biblioteca Civica, MS Cassaf. 1.21), viewable here; and the alphabet book of Gregorius Bock (Yale, Beinecke Library, MS 439, of 1510-17), online here.
Manuscript evidence of the little known bunny rebellion of the late 13th century that also shows the facts long suppressed by male historians of the important role that women had in putting down the rebellion.