October 18, 2012

English Coats of Arms

In the mid-16th century, tradesmen working for the Fugger mercantile and banking empire and commissioned by the Augsburg patrician and book lover Johann Jakob Fugger were busy acquiring new treasures, from sources near and far, for Fugger’s huge collection of books. To enlarge his collection of European dynastic history and heraldry, a special interest of Fugger’s in 1545–50, he procured this work, the latest version of the armorial of the English nobility. The collection opens with a magnificent coat of arms of King Henry VIII (reigned 1509–47) in gold and silver and shining colors. Among the coats of arms are also the king’s heraldic badges (personal devices), including the Tudor rose and the blue sash of the Order of the Garter with golden edgings and embroidered with the golden motto: Honi soit qvi mal y pense (Evil to him who evil thinks). This is followed by the coats of arms of the families of Henry’s six wives, of the 12 most important peers of England and Ireland, and of the members of the Order of the Garter. Then come the arms of the English royal family, of the English nobility, of English bishops, and of other English families. In 1571 business difficulties forced Johann Jakob to sell his book collection to Albert V of Bavaria. The armorial together with Fugger’s entire library came into the Munich Court Library, predecessor to the Bavarian State Library.

Javanese Manuscript of the Adventures of Hamza

The adventures of the early Islamic hero Hamza, the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, are a favorite subject of Javanese literature in which the deeds of the hero, here called Ménak, are retold. The Javanese legends are written in poetic form and relate the stories as occurring during the lifetime of the Prophet. This manuscript, written in the Javanese and Pégon (Arabic–Javanese) alphabets, contains a number of the main episodes in the tales of Hamza. The codex offers a prime example of the art of book illumination that flourished during this period in Yogyakarta, a city and sultanate on the Indonesian island of Java and a traditional center of Javanese culture. Particularly remarkable are the various highly symbolic wadana, ornamentally decorated pages at the beginning or the end of separate text passages. These are often illustrated with architectural motifs representing temples. Unfortunately, several pages of the manuscript have been obliterated by ink corrosion. The manuscript is at the Bavarian State Library in Munich, Germany.

13th-Century Qurʼan from Seville

This early 13th-century manuscript is among the very few surviving dated Qurʼans from Islamic Spain. Completed in Seville in 1226 AD (624 AH), it was rescued from destruction during the Reconquista (reconquest) by Muslim refugees who fled Spain for North Africa. In 1535, when the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500–58) conquered Tunis in an expedition against the Barbary pirates, his troops seized the Qurʼan and took it back to Europe. The manuscript subsequently came into possession of Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter (1506–57), a diplomat and orientalist whose library later became the foundation for the Munich court library. The text is written on parchment in condensed Andalusi script. Gold dominates in the coloring of the opening double page, in the surah (chapter) headings, and in the verse markers and ornaments in the margins referring to prostrations and the division of the Qurʼan into sections. The final page with the colophon is set in a rosette surrounded by a square frame. The manuscript is at the Bavarian State Library in Munich, Germany.


This manuscript, consisting of 60 paper leaves, is the 20th juz’ (section) of one of the greatest Qurʼanic manuscripts known to exist. Originally it consisted of 30 volumes. Other sections of single folios are to be found in various libraries, museums, and collections. This manuscript belongs to a small group of manuscripts that can be assigned (from the similarity of the writing to the decoration of the so-called Samanid ceramics, as well as from the names of writers) to eastern Iran and can be attributed from dated copies to the 11th or 12th centuries. The text is written on five lines to a page. The writing is a special eastern form of Kufic of distinct metallic precision. The monumental impression conveyed by the writing is luxuriously enriched by colorful additions. Golden circular dots serve as diacritical marks; vocalization is in red; further marks for reading and lecturing are in green and blue. In the margin we find points for further division, and into the margin project the headings for the surahs (chapters, leaves 18 recto and 43 verso) with palm leaf-shaped ura or ansae (handles). At the opening is a page of pure decoration, with a system of daringly stylized arabesque leaves and secondary symmetrical filling of the background. The double pages at the beginning and at the end assume an almost pictorial character, due to the firm framework of the panel of writing and the unbroken ornamentation of its background.

Costumes and Genre Pictures of the 16th Century from Western and Eastern Europe, the Orient, the Americas, and Africa

This manuscript, possibly created in Augsburg around 1580, contains more than 400 illustrations of the dress and manners and customs of countries in Europe and the Orient (especially the Ottoman Empire) as well as Africa and the Americas. With the exception of some clearly fantastic depictions (such as persons with their faces located on their breast, with animal heads, or with just one leg), all of illustrations seem to be accurate. Among the subjects portrayed are the dress and customs of people of various social groups in Scandinavia, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Bohemia, France, England, and Flanders; the Greek patriarch; “exotic” peoples of Asia and Africa; and Indians of the New World. The book also portrays games played by the Aztec and Olmec peoples of Mesoamerica. It shows the entourage of a member of the Fugger family, the most prominent family in Augsburg.

Golden Munich Psalter

This manuscript is one of the most lavishly illuminated psalters of the Middle Ages. It includes 91 full-page miniatures, most of which contain gold, in five picture cycles that give an overview of the most important scenes of the Bible, and especially the Old Testament, which is depicted in no fewer than 176 scenes. Among these, several very unusual motifs concerning heroic women are especially noteworthy. The style of the illumination is typical for the transition period between late Romanesque and early Gothic art. With its calendar, the texts of the Psalms, 15 canticles, and ten prayers, this book was intended for the private use and devotion of an important noble lady. Although its English provenance has long been known, it was only recently that the origin of the manuscript could be determined more precisely. In view of the close parallels with another dated calendar of known origin, it now seems probable that the book was commissioned in an Oxford workshop as a present for Margaret de Briouze on the occasion of her marriage to the nobleman Walter de Lacy II in the year 1201. According to an ex libris preserved on the front pastedown, the manuscript must have reached the Bavarian State Library by the 1620s. Dynastic links between the house of Wittelsbach-Straubing-Holland and members of the English aristocracy in the 13th and early 14th centuries could explain the manuscript's migration to continental Europe.