October 18, 2012

Illustrated Readings on the Saints

This Latin manuscript containing readings for the feast days of selected saints features ten illustrations by the noted German Renaissance painter Berthold Furtmeyr (active, 1460–1501). The illustrations are framed by initials from the text. For stylistic reasons, scholars have dated these illuminations with tendrils to the last decade of the 15th century and ascribed them to the Ratisbon (present-day Regensburg) artist and his studio. Furtmeyr and his followers were important contributors to the age-old Ratisbon School of Illumination. An artist of great renown, Furtmeyr illuminated many impressive works, including this manuscript, the Furtmeyr Bible, and the Salzburg feast missal in five volumes (all now at the Bavarian State Library in Munich, Germany), and many other works. In his works, the artist mastered the difficult task of successfully combining pictures, ornament, and text with great authority. Furtmeyr is famous for his handling of colors, his brightly shining illuminations, and the extreme diligence that marks his craftsmanship. Although he was still deeply rooted in the Middle Ages, his love of color, nocturnal scenes, and female nudes mark a transition to the Renaissance.

Early Bavarian Law

The Lex Baiuvariorum (Bavarian law) is the oldest surviving Latin document of any extent composed in Bavaria and the most important source for the early history of Bavaria. Containing the text of the first Bavarian statute book, it reflects, besides the history of the law, the economic, social, and cultural history of Bavaria under Agilolfingian rule in the sixth–eighth centuries. It focuses on criminal law, prescribing fiscal penalties for various infringements, and also deals with constitutional, civil, and procedural law. The preface reveals the high sources from which the Lex claims its authority: it begins with an appeal to Christ and then introduces the most famous legislators, beginning with Moses, whose name is highlighted by a yellow and red initial. The small format, modest decorations, and the clear Carolingian minuscule script are characteristic of this copy of the Lex, which was intended for use, as ordained in Chapter 2, 14, which specified that the statute book be at hand during every procedure in order to ensure “a just verdict in all cases.” The manuscript was composed in Freising and came to the Bavarian State Library from the Benedictine monastery on the Tegernsee in South Germany.

When the Last Stars Begin to Fade

The autograph of this hitherto unknown song by Franz Liszt (1811–86), Wenn die letzten Sterne bleichen (When the last stars begin to fade), was discovered in 2007 among the papers of Count Franz von Pocci (1807–76) in the manuscript department of the Bavarian State Library. Pocci, an ingenious caricaturist, poet, musician, composer, founder of the Kasperltheater, jurist, and master of ceremonies in the age of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, met Liszt on his concert tour through southern Germany in 1843. In Munich, Liszt stayed at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof, where he met the German novelist and writer Bettina von Arnim and her daughters, Pocci, and many other participants in Munich cultural life. Wenn die letzten Sterne bleichen is dedicated to Pocci, and appears to have been written by Liszt at an impromptu musical soirée at the hotel and first sung by Armgard von Arnim, who had a lovely soprano voice and was admired by Liszt. Pocci wrote the poem for the song, which deals with the short moment between night and morning. The manuscript of the 24-bar composition shows how quickly Liszt jotted down and corrected the song, omitting elements such as clefs, dynamic markings, phrasing, and articulation.

Paupers' Bible

The name commonly given to this work, Biblia pauperum (Paupers' Bible), does not reflect the true importance of this outstanding manuscript, which might be said to contain the summa of the religious knowledge of its time. The work was commissioned, together with another remarkable manuscript of the Rule of Saint Benedict, by Abbot Petrus I of the Benedictine Abbey of Metten in Bavaria and was completed in 1414–15. To carry out his demanding program of manuscript creation, the abbot engaged artists of note, who were well versed in the tradition of Bohemian illumination. The colored line drawings are without equal among contemporary works from southern Germany. Text and drawings blend into a single entity. The many important texts in the manuscript include: the “figured poem” De laudibus sanctae crucis (In honor of the Holy Cross) by Rabanus Maurus (died, 856); the Biblia pauperum itself, the novel pictorial style of which sets it apart from other such works; and the treatise De sacro altaris mysterio (Concerning the sacred mystery of the altar) by Pope Innocent III (died, 1216), with its 43 allegorical figures and circular schemata. The Gospels at the beginning of the manuscript, together with the fine binding into the covers of which relics of saints are incorporated, form a plenary reliquary. The manuscript belongs to the Bavarian State Library in Munich, Germany.

The Rule of Saint Benedict, from the Abbey of Metten

Together with the Biblia pauperum (Paupers' Bible), Abbot Petrus I of the Benedictine Abbey of Metten in Bavaria commissioned another outstanding manuscript, known as the Mettener Regel (literally, The Metten Rule, referring to the rule of Saint Benedict as practiced at the Abbey of Metten) in both Latin and German versions. The abbot had the illuminators, whose style, as in the Biblia pauperum, shows signs of Bohemian influence, paint in color scenes from the life of Saint Benedict at the openings of the chapters. The model for the work was the verse life of Benedict by Pope Gregory the Great (circa 540–604), called the Bis-bini-Vita after its opening line. The variation in the backgrounds of the illustrations—in some cases landscape and in others ornamental—is noteworthy and heralds a fresh stylistic development. The sequence of illustrations was never completed: in the second part of the manuscript, some of the colored miniatures are half-finished or remain mere preparatory sketches. These unfinished works-in-progress offer interesting insights into the painting techniques of the workshop. The manuscript is at the Bavarian State Library in Munich, Germany.

15th-century Missal, with Notes and Initials

This musical manuscript at the Bavarian State Library is decorated with 15 initials with tendrils. The initials frame pictures and refer to the chorales of the church year. For stylistic reasons, scholars have dated these illuminations to the last decade of the 15th century and ascribed them to the illustrious Renaissance painter Berthold Furtmeyr (circa 1435/40–circa 1501) and his school. Furtmeyr and his followers were important contributors to the age-old Ratisbon (present-day Regensburg) school of illumination. An artist of great renown, Furtmeyr illuminated many impressive works, including this manuscript, the Furtmeyr Bible, and the Salzburg feast missal in five volumes (all now at the Bavarian State Library), and many other works. His major clients for these beautiful religious books were the Bavarian dukes and the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg. In his works, the artist mastered the difficult task of successfully combining pictures, ornament, and text with great authority. Furtmeyr is famous for his handling of colors, his brightly shining illuminations, and the extreme diligence that marks his craftsmanship. Although he was still deeply rooted in the Middle Ages, his love of color, nocturnal scenes, and female nudes mark a transition to the Renaissance.