Anthology of Ḥakīm Ruknā Masīḥ

This diwan (a collection of poems in Arabic or Persian, usually by a single author) of Persian poems by physician and poet Ḥakīm Ruknā Masīḥ dates from 1638. “Ḥakīm” is an honorific for a wise man or physician. “Masīḥ” (the Christian), which appears elsewhere in the manuscript, was a pen name of the author. It is believed that the poems were dictated by the author to his calligrapher. The manuscript is in four sections, containing qasidas (odes), ghazals (lyric poems), rubaiyat (quatrains), and muqatta't (poetic fragments). The first two pages of each section show a gold field with a pattern of white clouds containing the verses. Each section opens with an illumination of a colored flower composition, with the titles written in white letters on a gold background, and text divided into two parts by a vertical band with а colored ornamentation. Each page is framed by a gold band with a blue outer rim. The colophon states that the manuscript was finalized on the 18th of the month of Shawal (Shaval) in the year 1047 AH at Dar al-Muminin of Kashan, in the Shikastah calligraphic style. The volume is bound in black leather, with red leather lining the inside covers. An imprint depicting cranes is embossed on the outsides and an imprint with a blue and gold ornament appears on the insides. The manuscript was given to the library of the University of Kharkov in 1904 by B.G. Filonov, a former student in the law school of the university, the first chairman of the executive board of the Kharkov Public Library (present-day Korolenko Kharkov State Scientific Library), a famous collector and patron of the arts in Kharkov.

Beato of Liébana: The Codex of Fernando I and Doña Sancha

Around the year 776, a monk by the name of Beato or Beatus, possibly the abbot of the monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana, wrote a work entitled Comentarios al Apocalipsis (Commentary on the apocalypse), which had an extraordinary success in the following five centuries. Thanks to his great erudition, Beato combined in this text, as a summa, many commentaries on the topic of the apocalypse by such authors as Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Isidore of Seville, and the 4th-century scholar Ticonius. The genre of apocalyptic literature appeared in the Jewish tradition in the second century BC and had never ceased to be practiced. Obsessed like his contemporaries with the imminent coming of the end of the world, which, according to the calculations of the six ages was to take place in the year 800 (838 in the Spanish era), Beato wrote this work for the edification of his monks. He emphasized that, after the final terrifying catastrophes announced by Saint John the Evangelist, good would triumph over evil. The original codex, which most likely was illuminated, has not been preserved. Even though the dreaded date passed without the world coming to an end, copies of Beato’s work continued to be made in the monasteries of the peninsular north (only one extant manuscript was written abroad). Then came the terrifying year 1000 and other feared dates, so the text, linked to a fixed cycle of illustrations, continued to appeal to readers. Thirty-five manuscript copies dating from the ninth century to the 13th century have survived. By semantic extension, these manuscripts are called beato, and 26 of them are illuminated. Two are preserved at the National Library of Spain. Presented here is one of the most beautiful copies, Codex Vitr/14/2, commissioned in 1047 by King Fernando I of León and Castille and Queen Sancha, and possibly done by Facundo in San Isidoro de León. Its 98 miniatures, endowed with amazing expressiveness, are distributed mostly on colorful horizontal stripes in a unique and unmistakable style that blends the Romanesque with various Mozarab and North African influences. Prominent among them are the Four Horsemen, the vision of celestial Jerusalem, the seven-headed snake, and the destruction of Babylon. The manuscript, owned by the Marquis of Mondéjar in the late 17th century, was confiscated with the rest of his library by Philip V during the War of the Spanish Succession.


Etymologiae (Etymology) is the best known work by Saint Isidore of Seville (circa 560–636), a scholar and theologian considered the last of the great Latin Church Fathers. It takes its name from a method of teaching that proceeds by explaining the origins and meaning of each word related to a topic. Saint Isidore drew on many different sources in his attempt to summarize all ancient knowledge and save it for posterity. The fame of the work led to it being widely copied and disseminated, and its popularity lasted even into the Renaissance. To medieval scholars, Etymologiae was an unequaled compendium of information. This important manuscript in Gothic minuscule writing in the style of the Toledo–Seville school came originally from the cathedral of Toledo. It includes notes and Arabic equivalents for some Latin words. Several sheets are made from parchment cuts, crudely drawn. The manuscript also contains a world map with Arabic writing (at 116v), and geometric figures in color, with titles, captions, initials, and capitals in red and green.

Playing with Fire: Operetta in Three Acts

Francisco Asenjo Barbieri (1823–94) is one of the best known figures in the history of Spanish music. He was a composer, musicologist, director, and bibliophile. The core music holdings of the National Library of Spain consist of Barbieri’s own library, which he bequeathed to the institution in his will. Barbieri’s bequest is one of the most important sources for the history of Spanish music. The national library also acquired, in 1999, Barbieri’s personal archive, which includes autographed scores. The relationship between Barbieri and the national library began with the ceremonial laying of the first stone for the building, for which he wrote, in 1866, a triumphal march. The zarzuela (Spanish comic operetta) Jugar con fuego (Playing with fire) premiered on October 6, 1851, in the Teatro del Circo in Madrid and had great success over the course of 17 evenings. From the time of its premiere until 1860, it was the zarzuela with most performances in Spain. The work set the standards for the genre and the beginning of the zarzuela grande (a zarzuela with more than one act). A great number of adaptations were made of Jugar con fuego, as well as arrangements and transcriptions of the complete work or of its most popular sections, for piano or voice and piano, but also for guitar and even some for chamber ensembles. Presented here, from the same year, is the work in two formats: the full manuscript score, which includes a dedication, in Barbieri’s handwriting, to the duke of Osuna, and a Madrid edition for voice and piano of the 12th number of the zarzuela. This is the baritone aria and chorus: “Quien mé socorre!” Included with the 1851 edition is the libretto by Ventura de la Vega, playwright, literature teacher of Queen Isabella II, and director of the Madrid Conservatory. The transcription for voice and piano of Jugar con fuego was the object of a legal battle between Barbieri and one of the most important music editors of the time, Casimiro Martín, who published a copy of it without the author’s permission. Barbieri could not defend his rights because he had not registered the work in this format in the Intellectual Property Register.

Seven-Part Code

This illuminated manuscript of the Siete partidas (Seven-part code), on parchment in Gothic script, dates from the 13th–15th centuries. The codex is important for several reasons. It was written in one scriptorium (except for Partida I, which was added in the 15th century) and it includes the complete Partidas with their ornamentation, and bibliographic clues that shed light on their origins. This body of law, commissioned and begun by Alfonso X and supplemented by later reforms, constitutes the most widely known legal system that governed Spain from the Middle Ages to the modern era and influenced the law of some of its former colonies. Its implementation took place from the reign of Alfonso XI and the Cortes of Alcalá de Henares of 1348, in which the Partidas are mentioned as a body of law. The manuscript is divided in seven parts, one for each Partida. Included are a general index (not well done for Partida II) and a table of contents at the beginning of each Partida with the titles of its laws; those for Partidas V and VII are missing. Partida I deals with canon law; II with peerage law, including the rights of kings and grandees; III with procedural law and the administration of justice; IV with civil law, especially marriage law and human relations; V with commercial law; VI with succession and estate law; and VII with criminal law. In its entirety, the body of law regulates all social relations. The manuscript is illuminated with ornamented corners and miniatures at the beginning of each Partida, illustrating the topic treated. For example, at the beginning of  Partida I, the pope introduces the king to the Savior (folio 106 r.); in III, the king, on his throne, administers justice (folio 191 r.); in IV, there is a scene of the baptism of Jesus Christ (folio 294 r.); in IV, the king, as the supreme representative of justice, signs a contract with several people (folio 331 r.);  in VI, a dying man dictates his testament (folio 379 r.); and in VII there is a representation of a tournament (folio 415 r.). Some capital letters are decorated in burnished gold and various colors, with blue and red being predominant, and some of them have elegant flourishes. Red is used in the titles and captions. The manuscript originally belonged to Alvaro de Zúñiga, first duke of Arévalo, chief justice of the kingdom, who was married to Leonor Pimentel. This provenance is reflected in the coats of arms that adorn the front page and in its binding. The manuscript later was part of the library of the Catholic kings, as can be seen by its rich velvet case. The binding is in Moorish-gothic style, in embossed leather on wood. Inside the covers is the Zúñiga–Pimentel coat of arms. This richly decorated cover was later protected by the royal house with a blue velvet case, adorned in Morisco enamel set in silver. The floral and heraldic motifs predominate in the four clasps and in the two royal initials “Y” (Isabel) and “F” (Ferdinand) and in the two bundles of arrows.

El melopeo y maestro: Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Music

Pedro (Pietro) Cerone (1566–1625) was born in Bergamo, Italy. After training as a musician, singer, and priest in Italy, he travelled to Spain as a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela in about 1593. A year later, mired in poverty and living in Madrid, he came under the protection of Santiago Gratii (Caballero de Gracia), in whose music academy he was able to work. Thanks probably to Caballero de Gracia, he was able to serve in the Royal Chapel of Phillip II and later that of Philip III. Around 1603–5 he returned to Naples and in 1610 he entered the chapel of the new viceroy of Naples, the count of Lemus, Pedro Fernández Castro. It was in Naples where he published, in 1609, a treatise on plainsong, and in 1613, in Spanish, El melopeo y maestro, a book that he had written almost entirely in Madrid. The title may derive from the Latin melopeia, meaning the art of producing melodies, and maestro in the sense of an eminent teacher of music. El Melopeo is an encyclopedic work, consisting of 1,160 folio pages in 849 chapters. As the title indicates, the work “describes extensively what one must know to become a perfect musician.” Cerone begins by giving advice on the moral and social behavior of the musician. He then deals with plainsong, measured song, musical dialogue, and composition. He compares the musical training and knowledge in Spain and Italy, pointing out Spanish deficiencies, and presents the most detailed catalog of the instruments used in Spain. The book was widely circulated and was an essential reference tool for Spanish musical theorists of the 17th and 18th centuries. Reviled in the 19th century for its conservatism, it is recognized today as a valuable source of information on the Spanish music of its time.

The Book of Calixto and Melibea and of the Old Whore Celestina

La Celestina is undoubtedly one of the greatest bestsellers in Spanish literature. It is said to have been printed in more than 200 early editions, although fewer than half of these have survived. The work, by Fernando de Rojas (died 1541), began as a comedy in 16 acts, which was extended to 21 acts in the tragicomedy, which became the popular version. In addition to being published throughout Spain, the Spanish text was printed in Lisbon, Rome, Venice, Milan and Antwerp. Early translations into Italian, French, German, English, and Dutch attest to the great popularity of the work. This beautiful illustrated edition, published by the Seville printer Cromberger around 1518–20, is the third of a series of editions by this printer, and the only one entitled Libro de Calixto y Melibea y de la puta vieja Celestina (The book of Calixto and Melibea and of the old whore Celestina) instead of the classic Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea (The tragic-comedy of Calisto and Melibea). The most interesting aspect of Cromberger’s printing is his use, without variation, of a series of woodcut prints in all of his editions of La Celestina, which were probably made from the same printing blocks. They are found at the beginning of each act and are of two types: broad rectangular engravings that represent episodes, and another series of loose engravings showing figures of characters, trees, and buildings. These so-called factotum figures were to become characteristic of Spanish broadsheets well into the 19th century. The book presented here is an extraordinary bibliographic rarity, as it is the only surviving copy of this edition.

Codicil of Queen Isabel the Catholic, Executed at Medina del Campo, on November 23, 1504

On November 23, 1504, three days before her death, Queen Isabella of Spain signed, in Medina del Campo, a codicil before the same notary, Gaspar de Gricio, and five of the seven witnesses who had been present on October 12 for the signing of her last will and testament. In the testament, the queen addressed the fundamental aspects of government by the Catholic monarchs. In the codicil, besides reaffirming what she had stipulated in the testament, she addressed questions directly affecting peninsular government and showed her concern for Spanish policy in America by setting the bases for the Laws of the Indies (the body of law issued by the crown governing Spanish possessions in America and the Philippines). In the last clause of the testament, the queen expressed the wish that the original of the codicil be sent to the Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe, at Extramadura in central Spain, which did not occur. It is known that at some time in 1543–45 the testament was taken to the castle of Simancas, which soon after became the Spanish royal archive. The codicil, which strangely had broken away from the testament, was added to the collections at the Royal Library, becoming part of a collected volume from which it was separated in 1881. The codicil begins with a brief salutation to God and ratifies what was expressed in the testament. The body of the codicil follows with 16 clauses and the queen’s signature with the remains of the royal seal plate. The document ends with the notary’s statement and the signatures and seals of the five witnesses. Written in a courtly classical style on three sheets of parchment with an additional sheet that serves as a cover, the codicil probably was similar in appearance to the testament.

The Seville Bible

Biblia hispalense (The Seville Bible), also known as the Toletanus Codex, is a manuscript from the first half of the tenth century, in Latin written in lower-case Visigothic script by at least four copyists. The titles also appear in Hebrew, and there are notes in Arabic in the margins. The manuscript consists of booklets of eight sheets each, on parchment, with the text in three columns of 63–65 lines. Included are the texts of the Old and New Testaments, with a preface, prologues, and commentaries by Saint Jerome, Saint Isidore, and others. Despite its clearly Christian format and content, the Arab influence of the Moorish occupation of Al-Andalus is notable in the ornamentation, and in the double horseshoe arch with a decorative motif in the form of flowers and leaves typical of Islamic art. The symbols of the Evangelists, Saint Luke and Saint John, are included and there are drawings of the prophets Micah, Nahum, and Zechariah, and some initials with birds and fish. Some capital letters and captions appear in blue and red. The manuscript shows some deterioration, particularly in the early pages. Partial Arabic numbering survives from the 15th and 16th centuries, and a complete set from the 18th century. The final pages contain a fragment of a Latin glossary from a different codex. A note on page 375v states that Servando from Seville gave the book to his friend the bishop of Córdoba, who in 988 gave it to the Church of Saint Mary in Seville. It came to the National Library of Spain with other materials from Toledo Cathedral in 1869.

The Art of Making Mechanical Timepieces for Church Towers, Rooms, and Pockets

Manuel del Río was a Spanish Franciscan, said to have been a skilled watchmaker, who probably learned the trade in Oporto, Portugal, with Tomás Luis de Sáa. Del Río belonged to the Franciscan community in Santiago, where in 1759 he published Arte de los reloxes de ruedas (The art of making mechanical timepieces). The work was reissued in 1789 in Madrid by del Río’s disciple Ramón Durán. That edition is presented here. The prologue states that one of the reasons for writing the book was the lack of manuals on the subject. In fact, two other Spanish books on watchmaking were published in the second half of the 18th century. The singularity of del Río’s work resides in its being the first to describe church clocks and to provide instructions on their manufacture. Del Río flourished in the favorable cultural environment created by King Charles III, who promoted the teaching of industrial and artistic trades and the publication of scientific and technical works. The king’s policies also led to the founding of centers such as the Royal Clockmaking School in 1771 and the Royal Clock Factory in 1788. By this time, use of mechanical clocks had become so widespread that there was a demand for manuals to help owners to maintain them and to correct their timekeeping. The work shows many of the characteristics common to 18th-century books intended for the spread of utilitarian knowledge. Included are engravings of instruments, gears, and other objects, arranged to help explain how they functioned. The illustrations are by Cipriano Maré, an engraver who contributed to other important popular science works. The book is well organized and includes a question and answer section in the first volume and an alphabetic subject index and a glossary in the second that reflect its didactic purpose.