October 18, 2012

Excerpts from the Decades by Flavius Blondus

Giovanni Marco Cinico from Parma wrote and signed this manuscript for Alfonso II of Aragon, King of Naples, in 1494. The text comprises excerpts from Historiarum ab inclinatione Romanorum imperii decades (Decades of history from the deterioration of the Roman Empire) by Flavius Blondus, the Latinized name of Flavio Biondo (1392–1463). Biondo was an early Renaissance Italian historian and archeologist, who wrote several books on the history of Rome. The excerpts were compiled by Johannes Albinus (also called Giovanni Albino), an enthusiast for the literature of antiquity and a statesman, counselor to Ferdinand of Aragon, and historian who died in Rome circa 1496. The lavishly ornate manuscript is especially remarkable for the illuminations on the title pages displaying, in front of an architectural framework, victorious Rome personified as a woman on the verso page, next to a female personification of the defeated enemies of Rome on the right-hand page, sitting amid her broken armor. The manuscript contains gold and ornamental initials as well as edgings consisting of foliage, vases, and pearls. The decorations are ascribed to the Neapolitan painter Giovanni Todeschino (flourished 1482–1503), and their high quality exemplifies the art of the Italian Renaissance.

Qajar Album

This small Qajar album from the time of Fath-Ali Shah Qajar (1772–1834; ruled, 1797–1834) combines calligraphic art from various epochs with early 19th-century illustrations of high artistic quality. Although the depiction of persons is standardized and lacks individuality, the use of perspective, especially in the background, reveals European influence. Two of the miniatures portray princely scions dressed in expensive robes. Two other pages are dedicated to one of the most popular motifs of Persian book painting: the love of the nightingale for the rose, a symbol of unconditional, self-sacrificing love. The Qajar dynasty ruled Persia (present-day Iran) from 1785 to 1925. The artist makes reference to the new dynasty, depicting in delicate gold in the upper margin of both miniatures the motif of the Qajar coat of arms: a lion in front of the rising sun. This suggests that the pictures may have been commissioned by a member of the ruling house. The album later was acquired by the French orientalist Baron Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy (1758–1838) and subsequently came to the Bavarian State Library as part of the library of Étienne Marc Quatremère (1782–1857), also a noted French orientalist.

Description of the Eight Pageants Held during the Games on the Occasion of the Christening of Princess Elisabeth of Hesse, 1596

In 1596 Landgrave Moritz of Hesse (1572–1632) celebrated the christening of his daughter, Elisabeth von Hessen-Kassel (1596–1625), with four days of lavish games, tournaments, and fireworks. This manuscript was compiled and executed by an unknown hand. It details the costumes of eight inventions (pageants) accompanying the central Ringelrennen (game of skills as a late variant of the medieval tournament games), which took place on August 27, 1596. Each pageant presents an allegorical or mythological motif, using an abundance of 165 finely detailed fantastic costumes. The eight pageants presented are: I. Jason and Perseus; II. On vices; III. The four seasons; IV. The deeds of a true prince; V. The sun and moon; VI. The judgment of Paris; VII. On the seven liberal arts (artes liberales); and VIII. On the four continents. The section on the continents features fanciful personifications of America, Africa, Asia, and Europe.

The Triumphs of Maximilian

Among the many endeavors undertaken by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519) to further his legacy was his plan of a monumental allegorical triumph, to be composed of more than 200 woodcuts. Many of the foremost artisans of the time worked on the project, but it was stopped after the Emperor's death and thus was never finished. The Munich manuscript of the Turnierbuch (Tournament book, also known as The Triumphs of Maximilian) features copies of the preparatory drawings made by Hans Burgkmair the Elder (1473–1531), who was responsible for almost half of the illustrations for the triumph. The copies probably were drawn and hand-colored by his son, Hans Burgkmair the Younger (circa 1500–59), and are of excellent quality. They show various knights and officials from Maximilian’s court representing different variations of tournament fighting, both mounted and on foot. Hans Burgkmair the Elder was a painter and woodcut print maker who was born and worked in Augsburg. Hans Burgkmair the Younger was also a painter and engraver.

The Portraits of the Fugger Family

In 1593, members of the famous Fugger family commissioned the Augsburg engraver Dominicus Custos (circa 1550–1612) to create this ambitious collection of family portraits. Using existing portraits as his models, Custos finished a first edition of the portraits in 1593. After his death, his sons-in-law, Lukas Kilian (1579–1637) and Wolfgang Kilian (1581–1662), expanded and updated the collection, replacing the portraits of some members of the family with new engravings depicting them in older age. This new edition was published in 1618. This copy was purchased by the Bavarian State Library from the Fugger family in 2009 and now forms part of its holdings. The work contains 138 engravings, representing the complete editions of 1593 and 1618, as well as two addenda from the 1620 edition. All engravings were expertly hand-colored by an unknown artist. The Fuggers were a German banking and mercantile dynasty that traced its origins to Hans (Johannes) Fugger (1348–1409), an Augsburg weaver. The family dominated European business in the 15th and 16th centuries and wielded great political influence through its loans to kings and emperors, from England’s Henry VIII to the House of Hapsburg.

On the Life of Plotinus. The Six Enneads

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 the collected philosophical works, the so-called Enneads, of Plotinus (circa 204–70), known as the founder of Neoplatonic philosophy. Also included in the codex is the biography of Plotinus by Porphyrios (234–circa 305), one of the philosopher’s most prominent disciples and the compiler of the Enneads. Copied by two different scribes who are well known to modern scholarship, the codex most likely was bought by Corvinus shortly after its production. The Bibliotheca Corviniana Collection was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2005.