October 18, 2012


Wolfram von Eschenbach composed his medieval German epic poem Parzival, which consists of more than 24,000 lines, in the first decade of the 13th century. It tells the story of the juvenile fool Parzival who, having grown up in the seclusion of the forest, is ignorant of the world and causes much grief as he ventures out to become a knight. He arrives at the Castle of the Grail, but fails to pose the question to the sick King Fisher Anfortas about the source of his suffering—a question that would release Anfortas and make Parzival the new grail king. After a long odyssey and a religious catharsis, Parzival is able to return to Arthur's court and is marked as the new grail king. The tale, according to the manuscript tradition, enjoyed great popularity throughout the Middle Ages. Only a few of the manuscripts are illuminated. This manuscript from the Bavarian State Library, written in a Gothic cursive script, is one of the few illuminated manuscripts of Parzival that are known to exist. Unfortunately, only one of the illuminations in the codex, which were to be inserted in spaces that the writer left blank, was executed. The style of painting suggests that it most likely originated in Lower Bavaria, perhaps in Landshut. The quality and richness of this very illumination gives a hint of what a splendid work of art this would have been had it been completed.

Gutenberg Bible

Johann Gutenberg was born in Mainz, Germany, around 1400, the son of an aristocratic family with ties to the local metalworking industry. He lived in Strasbourg (in present-day France) for a time, where he carried out experiments with moveable metallic type made from a mold. By the mid-1450s, he had perfected a system of printing with moveable type that he used to create what became the world’s most famous book, the Latin translation of the Bible (Vulgate), generally known as the Gutenberg Bible. Scholars have thoroughly researched all aspects of Gutenberg’s work: the elaborate typeface with its 290 different characters derived from a Gothic missal script, the way he divided the text in the typesetting process, and the paper he used in the printing. Yet certain fundamental matters about the Gutenberg Bible are unknown or remain matters of dispute. The date on which the printing was completed is based solely on the notation “1455” on the binding of the Paris paper copy. It is believed that 180 copies of the Bible were printed, but this information is based on a single letter of Enea Silvio Piccolomini (the future Pope Pius II), who viewed samples of Gutenberg’s work in Frankfurt in 1455. Gutenberg originally intended to print in red the headings of the books of the Bible, but he abandoned this approach, using instead a separately printed table as a pattern for entering these lines by hand. Of the 49 extant, more-or-less complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible (12 on vellum, 37 on paper), this copy from the Bavarian State Library is one of only two (along with one copy in the Austrian National Library) in which this table is found as a vestige of the production process.

Jewel Book of the Duchess Anna of Bavaria

This unique manuscript was commissioned in 1552 by Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria, the founder of what is today the Bavarian State Library. The manuscript is an inventory of the jewelry owned by the duke and his wife, Duchess Anna, a member of the Habsburg dynasty and a daughter of Emperor Ferdinand I. The work contains 110 magnificent drawings by the Munich court painter Hans Mielich. One of the most impressive of these drawings is the front page miniature showing Albrecht and Anna playing chess, with Albrecht portrayed as a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Because of its outstanding importance as a work of art, the manuscript was kept in the private ducal and electoral Chamber of Artifacts for almost three centuries—long after the originals of the jewelry depicted had been lost. Only in 1843 was the work presented to the Bavarian State Library by King Ludwig I.

Indian Summer

Adalbert Stifter (1805–1866) was one of the greatest stylists of German literature. He began his career in the spirit of Austrian Biedermeier by writing stories for the bourgeois reading public. The theme of these stories, which first appeared in popular journals and almanacs, was often the humanization of the elemental. Stifter later thoroughly revised these works, which led to their publication in his Studien of 1844–50 and Bunte Steine of 1853. After the revolutionary upheavals of 1848, Stifter distanced himself from contemporary trends. Der Nachsommer (Indian summer), the first great work of his later period, depicts an idyllic world in which the traditions of classical antiquity are linked with medieval romanticism in a utopian antithesis to the urban civilization of Stifter’s time. The Bavarian State Library acquired the long-lost manuscripts of Der Nachsommer, Bunte Steine, and seven stories from the Studien in 1964. The manuscripts offer new insights into the work of Stifter as a stylist, and their reappearance led to the publication of a new historico-critical collected edition of his works.

Ottheinrich Bible

The Ottheinrich Bible is the earliest surviving illustrated manuscript of the New Testament in the German language. The work was commissioned around 1430 by Ludwig VII, the Bearded, Duke of Bavaria-Ingolstadt. The text was written, presumably in Ingolstadt, in a monumental script consistent with the highest calligraphic standards. The text was then sent to Regensburg for illumination. Only about one-fifth of the miniatures were completed, however, before work was stopped. Sometime before 1530, the Count Palatine Ottheinrich acquired the Bible and commissioned the artist Mathis Gerung to complete the sequence of miniatures, which previously extended only as far as the Gospel of St. Mark. Gerung finished the work in 1530–31. In all, this magnificently illuminated Bible contains 146 miniatures and 294 ornamented initials on 307 parchment leaves. The manuscript was later taken as war booty from Heidelberg to Munich and then to Gotha, where in the 19th century it was split into eight volumes. The Bavarian State Library acquired three of these volumes in 1950, and the remaining five in 2007.

Letter to Philocrates

Under the influence of Italian humanism and of his book-collector tutor János Vitéz, the Archbishop of Esztergom, Matthias Corvinus of Hungary (1443–1490), developed a passion for books and learning. Elected king of Hungary in 1458 at the age of 14, Matthias won great acclaim for his battles against the Ottoman Turks and his patronage of learning and science. He created the Bibliotheca Corviniana, in its day one of Europe’s finest libraries. After his death, and especially after the conquest of Buda by the Turks in 1541, the library was dispersed and much of the collection was destroyed, with the surviving volumes scattered all over Europe. This codex, one of eight manuscripts originally in the Corvinus Library and now preserved in the Bavarian State Library, contains a text that recounts, in the form of a letter, the legendary history of the origins of the Greek translation of the Pentateuch. Written by Aristeas, the pseudonym for an anonymous Jew from Alexandria, the text was translated by Mattia Palmieri (1423–1583), humanist, politician, and secretary to the Holy See, who also composed a preface addressed to Pope Paul II. The manuscript bears the crest of Matthias Corvinus and the portrait of Ptolemy II, who was said to have commissioned the translation of the Pentateuch into Greek. The Bibliotheca Corviniana Collection was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2005.