October 18, 2012

The Twelve Ladies of Rhetoric

The manuscript entitled Les douze dames de rhétorique (The twelve ladies of rhetoric) contains the literary correspondence between Jean Robertet, secretary of the Bourbon duke Jean II; George Chastelain, historiographer of Philippe le Bon of Burgundy; and Jean de Montferrant, adviser and chamberlain at the Burgundian court. Written around 1464–65, the 19 letters in French and Latin are concerned with poetry. The letters are accompanied by a series of descriptions in verse of the twelve companions of Lady Rhetoric. Only five copies of the text, crafted immediately after the composition of the original, have been preserved, three of which were supplied with illuminations in Bruges. This manuscript, decorated with 15 half-page miniatures, was in the possession of Philip of Cleves, who probably had received it as a gift from his father. Some time before 1777, Prince-Elector Karl Theodor of the Palatinate-Sulzbach acquired the manuscript and provided it with a new binding. In 1803–4, a part of the library of the electors of the Palatinate, the Bibliotheca Palatina in Mannheim, including this precious manuscript, was transferred to Munich. The manuscript is now preserved in the Bavarian State Library.

Illustrated Book of Thai Poetry

The poems collected in this remarkable Thai manuscript from the second half of the 19th century are by an unknown poet. They all share the same theme: the loss of a beloved woman. Drawing upon all the possible degrees of refinement that the Thai language, poetry, and art can master, each poem is a work of art in itself, praising the beauty of the beloved woman and mourning her passing. Preceding the poems are 13 illustrations connected to the overall theme. They show mythological creatures and motifs from Thai legends and stories, such as Kinnarī (mythical half-birds) or the figure Phra Ram, the hero of the Thai Ramayana. The manuscript is at the Bavarian State Library in Munich, Germany.

Theological Miscellany, Circa 764-83

This miscellany manuscript was written in the time of Bishop Arbeo (circa 764–83) in the Bavarian diocesan town of Freising. It is remarkable especially for its script, a form of Anglo-Saxon minuscule, and its typically insular decoration: initials are adorned with animals and interlace patterns and surrounded by red dots. These insular features must be attributed to an English scribe active in the Freising scriptorium at that time, which is remarkable because Freising lay outside the area where the influence of English missionaries was strong in the eighth century. Unusually for this early period, the name of the scribe has come down to us. In other manuscripts in this hand, the scribe added a colophon at the end of his work, in which he mentioned his name: Peregrinus (“Pilgrim”). The Latin text includes writings by Isidore of Seville (circa 560–636), including his Synonyma, a spiritual meditation. Saint Isidore, Archbishop of Seville, was a scholar and theologian who is considered the last of the great Latin Church Fathers. His work would have been known to the Anglo-Saxon missionaries who played the major role in spreading Christianity to Germany in the eighth century.

Sixth Book on Architecture: On Habitations in and outside the Cities

The rediscovery in 1414 of the manuscript of De architectura libri decem (The ten books on architecture) by Vitruvius (circa 80–15 BC), the only treatise on architecture handed down from antiquity, caused a revolution in Renaissance architectural thought. One of the most important architects of the period, known both for his theoretical writings and the buildings he designed, was Sebastiano Serlio (1475–1554) of Bologna. Serlio’s seven books on architecture had a decisive influence on the evolution of the architecture of Venetian villas and palaces. Serlio’s influence previously was ascribed to the more illustrious Andrea Palladio, but it has since been confirmed by scholars. Serlio’s sixth book on architecture, Delle habitationi fuori e dentro delle città (On Habitations in and outside the Cities), deals with houses and villas suitable for all different ranks of people. The work contains elegantly and clearly drawn models on costly parchment, complemented by Serlio’s very lively and personal explications. This manuscript, in the artist’s own hand, is particularly precious. It is dedicated to King Henry II of France (1519–59; reigned 1547–59), and dates from the artist’s last years in Lyon. For financial reasons, Serlio decided, even before the manuscript went into print, to sell it to Jacopo Strada, an Italian merchant, who passed it on to the ducal library in Munich where it has remained ever since.

The Sibyls and Prophets Foretelling Christ the Savior

This manuscript, entitled Sibyllae et prophetae de Christo Salvatore vaticinantes (The sibyls and prophets foretelling Christ the Savior), is possibly a product of the workshop of the French illuminator Jean Poyer (circa 1445–1504) of Tours. The sibyls were female seers from the ancient world whose prophecies it was thought foretold the coming of Christ. This work consists of 25 large illuminations: a depiction of Noah's ark and 12 double-page spreads. The left side of each of the double pages depicts one of the sibyls, who is paired on the right side with a scene from the life of Christ and the history of salvation that she was said to have prophesied. The scenes on the right are accompanied by an Old Testament prophet and an evangelist. The manuscript probably was acquired by Elector Maximilian I of Bavaria (1573–1651), more as a work of art than a book. It therefore was kept in the elector’s art collection. Only in 1785 was it incorporated into the library.

Combat Manual of 1467

This 1467 manuscript Fechtbuch (Combat manual) provides instructions for various methods of fighting, without armor and wearing different kinds of armor, and on foot and on horseback. A series of annotated illustrations is devoted to combat with swords, daggers, pikes, and other weapons. Even the rules for a trial by combat between a man and a woman are included. The author, Hans Talhoffer (circa 1420–circa 1490), was regarded in his time as an unbeatable swordsman and one of the finest teachers of the so-called German school of fencing. Because of his reputation, many noblemen sought his services as an advisor and teacher. Among them was the first duke of Württemberg, Eberhard the Bearded (1445–96), who commissioned this manuscript. The manuscript itself has a curious history: originally forming part of the library of the dukes of Bavaria, it was stolen during the Thirty Years' War and ended up in Gotha. Only in 1951 was it again sold to the Bavarian State Library, where it is now preserved.