October 16, 2012

Gospel Book

This famous and impressive Carolingian gospel probably was written in the scriptorium of Mainz in the first quarter of the ninth century. Its decoration comprises canon tables in the form of arcades painted in red, green, greyish blue, violet, yellow, and ochre, with their architectural frames decorated with floral and geometrical patterns. The portraits of all four of the evangelists, probably executed by two different painters, are preserved. The canon tables and two of the portraits (those of Matthew and John) apparently were modeled after the so-called Ada Gospels, now preserved in the municipal library of Trier (Cod. 22). The other evangelist portraits were based on a different model, which, it has been suggested, must have been similar to the southern English Codex Aureus, which is today kept in the Royal Library of Stockholm (Ms. A. 135). English, in particular southern English, influence also can be seen in the style of most of the larger initials, which accords with the presumed origin of this manuscript in the Mainz–Hersfeld area in the cultural region of Hesse in central Germany. This was one of the main areas of the Anglo-Saxon mission to the continent in the eighth century. Mainz was the archiepiscopal seat of Saint Boniface (circa 680–754), the English-born “Apostle of the Germans” and the first archbishop of Mainz, while the Benedictine monastery of Hersfeld was founded by two of Boniface's disciples.

Book of Prayers

This book of prayers from the Benedictine monastery at Metten originally was intended for silent worship. The manuscript contains ornaments, tendrils, drolleries, and a series of illustrations framed by initials by the noted German Renaissance painter Berthold Furtmeyr (active 1460–1501). These miniatures depict scenes from the life of Christ and events involving the saints, as recounted in various legends. Furtmeyr and his followers were important contributors to the ancient Ratisbon School of Illumination. An artist of great renown, Furtmeyr illuminated many impressive works, including this manuscript, the Furtmeyr Bible, the Salzburg feast missal in five volumes (all now at the Bavarian State Library in Munich, Germany), and many other works. The artist showed his mastery of 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.

Kalila and Dimna

Kalila wa-Dimna (Kalila and Dimna) is a widely circulated collection of Oriental fables of Indian origin, composed in Sanskrit possibly as early as the third century BC. The fables were translated into Arabic in the eighth century by the Persian Ibn al-Muqaffa’, a highly educated writer and influential courtier. To this day, al-Muqaffa’s translation is considered an unsurpassed masterpiece of Arabic artistic prose, and numerous translations into European and Oriental languages dating from the 10th to the 14th centuries derive from his version. Influences of al-Muqaffa’s translation also are apparent in such important Western literary works as La Fontaine’s Fables and Goethe’s Reinecke Fuchs. Kalila wa-Dimna is a kind of mirror for princes. Questions of social life and of princely wisdom are explained on the basis of stories taken from the animal kingdom. This well-known manuscript, produced in Egypt circa 1310, is probably the oldest of the four known Arabic Kalila wa-Dimna manuscripts from the 14th century. One of the relatively few Arabic texts to be illustrated, it contains 73 miniatures, which have a high artistic quality and are thus an important monument of Arabic book decoration.


This outstanding early 14th-century manuscript is the first part of a Qurʼan originally comprising 12 volumes, which, according to the colophon, was produced for the Moroccan ruler Abū Ya‘qūb Yūsuf. This text and a companion manuscript, also in the Bavarian State Library (Cod.arab 3), contain, respectively, the first and last five sixtieths of the Qurʼan. The text is written in Maghrebi script on parchment, with only seven lines to a page. The well-proportioned balancing of the text area with the wide margins gives the Qurʼan its monumental character. Colorful signs indicate the vocalization and golden circles mark the verses. The medallions of the surah headings in the margins are carried out with very delicate arabesque ornaments. Several elegant double-page illuminations open and close the manuscript. Experts rate this manuscript and the companion Cod.arab 3 as among the most outstanding copies of the Qurʼan in existence.

Qurʼan of Père Lachaise

This 14th-century Mameluke Qurʼan, which belonged to Père Lachaise, confessor of Louis XIV, was obtained by the Jesuit order of Paris in 1693. The manuscript was confiscated when the order was dissolved in France in 1763. Gerhoh Steigenberger (1741–87), canon regular of the Upper Bavarian monastery of Polling, subsequently bought it, along with large parts of the dissolved Jesuit library. Steigenberger had been sent to Paris to acquire books and manuscripts for the monastic library. After the dissolution of the monastery in 1803, the manuscript was transferred to the Munich Court Library, predecessor of the present-day Bavarian State Library. It is written in monumental golden Muhaqqaq script, which was predominantly used for Qurʼan manuscripts in the Mameluke period. The marginal ornaments show lotus flower motifs, which were introduced to Islamic art after the Mongol incursions of the 13th century.  The Mamelukes were a military caste, originally composed of slaves from Turkey, who ruled Egypt from about 1250 until 1517.

Petrus Krüger’s Missal

This early 15th-century missal was written and illuminated by Petrus Krüger from Breslau for the abbot of Saint Emmeram, Ratisbon (present-day Regensburg). One of the original illuminations (folio 32v), however, has been largely replaced by a miniature that for stylistic reasons has been ascribed to the Ratisbon painter Berthold Furtmeyr (active 1460–1501). This miniature equals, in style and artistic quality, the picture pages in the Salzburg feast missal, Furtmeyr’s mature masterpiece. Apart from the Furtmeyr crucifixion group, the manuscript contains two other remarkable miniatures. The first portrays Abbot Petrus Pettendorfer, identifiable by his coat of arms, kneeling in front of the patron saints of the church: Emmeram, Dionysius, and Wolfgang (folio 10v). The second miniature by Krüger displays the expectant Virgin. In addition to the miniatures, 53 initials referring to the ensuing texts for the mass and five initials with leaves and tendrils decorate the manuscript. The miniatures and the initials are painted in gouache opaque watercolors: blue, red, orange, green, rose, yellow, brown, and gold. The iconography reflects elements from the Ratisbon or the Bohemian traditions, the technique and the bright contrasting colors derive from Silesian influences.