Gospel Book of Otfrid von Weissenburg

Otfried, a learned monk of the second half of the ninth century at Weissenburg (present-day Wissembourg) in Alsace and pupil of Rabanus Maurus (circa 780–856), an early abbot of Fulda, introduced the use of end rhyme into Old High German poetry. Between 863 and 871 he produced a metrical version of the Gospels or, rather, a Gospel harmony. His work is a “harmonizing” assemblage of selected texts from all four Gospels that tells the story of the life of Christ in southern Rhine Franconian dialect. It is divided in five books with a prologue and is thus a counterpart to the Old Saxon Heliand (an epic poem written down in the early to mid-ninth century that recounts the life of Jesus). The manuscript presented here, consisting of 125 parchment leaves, was copied in 902‒5 in Freising by order of Bishop Waldo of Freising (in office circa 884‒circa 906) from a codex borrowed from Weissenburg. It shows the transition from Carolingian minuscule to the 10th-century script. The first half of each line is in the left-hand column, the second half in the right-hand column, and the odd-numbered lines begin with red initials. In 1803, when Freising Cathedral Library was secularized, the manuscript was untraceable. It took another year to detect it in the cathedral archives, from where it was transferred to the Munich Court Library, predecessor of today’s Bavarian State Library.

Chronicle of the World

The manuscript of the Weltchronik (Chronicle of the world) presented here was produced in about the year 1300 in the Passau region of Bavaria. With its 240 parchment leaves, the manuscript is not as extensive as one might expect from its title. The strange-looking ancient style of 159 miniatures in gold and bright body colors, interspersed in the text, shows its debt to the so-called Zackenstil (jagged style). The abstract geometric treatment of garments and other fabric, which are placed in strongly angled folds, and the resolute gestures and movements of the characters, especially evoke the impression of being frozen in action. The wide oval faces have a uniform expression. However, the way that an arm, leg, or axe frequently overflows the edge of a frame, the expressive gestures of oversized hands, and the twists and turns of heads in the images nevertheless give the figures a strong sense of momentum. The miniatures probably hark back to a southwest German source, the relationship of which to the original Weltchronik manuscript of Rudolf of Ems is unsettled. The codex is also decorated with an abundance of red-and-blue fleuronnée lombards (pen-flourished initials) at the beginning of each section of the text. In addition, there are eight tendril-like initials with dragons in gold and body color at the beginning of individual books. In the 17th century the codex was owned by the Munich patrician Ferdinand Barth of Harmating. It was passed on to the library of the Count of Törring-Gutenzell, who eventually sold it to the Bavarian Court and State Library in 1909.

Tegernsee Psalter

From the manuscript Clm 19202 in the Bavarian State Library, on leaf 313 verso, we learn that the Tegernsee monk Konrad Sartori, who held the post of librarian at the monastery from 1500 until his death in 1531, completed work on that codex in 1516. One year later, Sartori finished his work on the Psalter volume presented here, Clm 19203. The date 1517 was noted by him at the end of the hymns (leaf 288 recto). Work on both psalters continued at the monastery until 1518. The manuscript of this later Psalter is now divided into two volumes. The first volume, which is presented here (leaves 9‒341, modern foliation), contains the psalms (leaves 9 recto‒210 recto), the canticles (leaves 210 recto‒238 recto), and the hymns (leaves 238 verso‒288 recto). The Office of the Dead begins on leaf 288 recto (image 569 here). Full-page images and calendars can be found at the beginning of the second volume, consisting of 23 leaves with eight full-page images and three calendars for Tegernsee Abbey. The dimensions of the leaves and stylistic reasons make it quite probable that the first eight leaves at the beginning of the second volume once were part of the first volume. The images contained in this second volume are the work of various artists. As research has shown, 35 miniatures were modelled after those in Clm 19202 and two go back to miniatures of Jörg Gutknecht from Augsburg (born circa 1482, died 1515 or 1516), who also illuminated another psalter in the collections of the Bavarian State Library (Clm 19201). The originals used include a woodcut and three engravings by Albrecht Dürer. The manuscript came to Munich in 1803, in the course of the secularization of the Monastery of Tegernsee. It has been part of the collections of the Bavarian State Library ever since.

Gospel Lectionary

Although somewhat overshadowed by the imperial manuscripts, this small Gospel lectionary, a parchment manuscript of 192 leaves, represents the Reichenau Ottonian school of illumination on a similarly high artistic plane. It thus exemplifies the outstanding position of this Lake Constance monastery at the time of the Saxon emperors (919‒1024). The original owner of the manuscript is unknown, as is the location from which the manuscript entered the Bavarian State Library during the secularization of the Bavarian monasteries in the early 1800s. At that time it must also have been stripped of its fine binding, of which only impressions and holes in the now-bare cover give evidence. The decoration is concentrated in ornamental initial pages and full-page miniatures, some of which introduce new pictorial themes into the Reichenau iconography. In addition to the Christological themes and the Pentecost image in the first half of the manuscript (the miniature for Easter is lost), other illuminations depict the annunciation to Zacharias (for the feast of John the Baptist), three parables of Jesus (for different Sundays after Whitsun), and the meeting of Jesus and Zacchaeus (for the kermis, or outdoor festival). A new feature in relation to older manuscripts is the relatively strong emphasis on the parables, which similarly gain significance in the somewhat later 11th-century Echternach illumination, from Echternach monastery in present-day Luxembourg.

Gratian's "Decretum" with Commentary by Bartholomew of Brescia

Presented here is an example of the best-known text of medieval canon law used in 13th and 14th century European universities, which was compiled by the 12th century Bolognese jurist Gratianus. Both the script and the lavish decoration of this impressive parchment manuscript, which contains 342 leaves and measures half a meter in height, are representative of the rich tradition of illustrated legal texts produced in 14th century Bologna, a center for law studies. The text belongs to the Laurentian type; the surrounding commentary is the revision by Bartholomew of Brescia (died 1258) of his Glossa Ordinaria. The illustrations underline the major divisions of the text: large miniatures are placed at the beginning of Part I, Part II, and De poenitentia (On repentance); 36 smaller miniatures illustrate each of the causae (hypothetical or fictitious causes); several hundred historiated and calligraphic initials mark the distinctiones (collections of reasoning formulated by jurists) and quaestiones (debatable points concerning disputes). The outstanding quality of the illumination suggests that they originate from the workshop of Niccolò di Giacomo da Bologna (circa 1330‒1403), one of the most famous and prolific miniaturists of the 14th century. As is characteristic in the Bolognese versions of the Decretum, the iconography of this manuscript emphasizes in many places that God is the source of both canon and civil law.

“Ma’aseh Hoshev”

This manuscript of Ma’aseh ḥoshev (The art of calculation), one of the most valuable Hebrew codices in the Bavarian State Library, is arranged in 24 separate works or grouped fragments of texts on mathematics, geometry and astronomy, together with a great number of explanatory notes, glosses, and additions. It is hard to do justice in a few words to the very broad range of matters discussed, which, in the disciplines covered, reflect the state of scientific knowledge in the Middle Ages. The work was compiled and mostly written by Levi ben Gershom, also known as Gersonides and by the acronym Ralbag (1288‒1344), in 1321. The largest part of the 265 paper leaves is taken up by the works of Euclid, including fragments of his treatises on optics and catoptrics, and especially the Elements, with commentaries by al-Farabi and Ibn al-Haitam translated by Mosheh Ibn Tibon. One of the most important texts is the Mishnat ha-Middot (Theory of measures), held to be the oldest Hebrew work on geometry, which dates from about 150. The manuscript also contains texts by other great Jewish scholars of the Middle Ages, such as Abraham bar Hiyya Savasorda (died circa 1136), Abraham ben Meïr Ibn Esra (1089‒1164), Simon Motot (15th century), and Mordecai ben Eliezer Comtino (1420‒circa 1487). The main part of the manuscript was transcribed in Constantinople in 1480 by a certain Moses ben David, who mentions his name on folios 100 verso and 173 verso. The manuscript came from the collection of Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter to the ducal court library in Munich, the present-day Bavarian State Library.

The Saxon Chronicle of the World

The Saxon Weltchronik (World chronicle) is extant in several versions. As an abridged version, the so-called review or recension A enjoyed a wider distribution than the larger (and today regarded as authoritative) version C, for which the manuscript tradition was limited to northern and central Germany. In the short version presented here, the longer narratives of the original, mainly from the chronicle of emperors, have been omitted completely or at least greatly reduced; the history of the 12th century is condensed to a great degree. This is why this manuscript, which is a representative of recension A, consists of only 74 parchment leaves. The abbreviated version of the Saxon chronicle spread from the region in which it was originally produced, especially into the Alemannic and Bavarian language area. This manuscript, undecorated apart from simple red initials, was written at the beginning of the second quarter of the 14th century in the Bavarian region of that time. It contains, directly after the text of the Saxon Weltchronik, from leaf 66 verso onwards, the oldest record of the so-called “first Bavarian continuation,” which extends to 1314. The continuation deals with the history of the Holy Roman Empire from Frederick II (1194‒1250, ruled 1220–50) to Louis the Bavarian, also known as Ludwig IV (circa 1282‒1347, ruled 1328‒47). Here and there, the focus switches to the corresponding papal history. Towards the end of the continuation the chronicler left some empty space for the reign of Louis the Bavarian, which was only filled in as late as in the 16th century. The codex was definitely already part of the old ducal court library in Munich, one of the predecessors of today’s Bavarian State Library, as early as in the 17th century. Its previous owners are unknown.


This Qurʼan, originally from a private library in Damascus, is one of the most important and oldest specimens of the early Qurʼanic tradition held in a Western library. The short vowels are marked by red points below, beside, and above the relevant consonant. There is already some use of diacritical points to differentiate between otherwise identical consonants. The manuscript shows the system of separating the verses, which originated in the eighth century, and which is still in use today: marked by rosettes, circles, squares, and so forth. By comparison with other manuscripts, which use an older system of verse separation, and because of the lack of differentiation of consonants by diacritical points, we can assume that this Qurʼan originated in the ninth century.

The Monkey King, Songoku

In December 1936, Dainihon Yubenkai Kodansha began publishing the Kodansha Picture Books series aimed at an audience younger than that of its youth-oriented magazine, Yonen Club. Using the best nihonga (traditional Japanese painting) artists and Western-style illustrators of the time, the popular series aimed to create titles to be looked at as opposed to being read. At its peak, Kodansha was publishing one million copies per month. It had published 203 titles when the series ended its publication in April 1942. First published in 1939, Songoku was the 95th title. The version presented here was published in 1949, and there are some changes from the original. The text was changed from katakana to hiragana (both are syllabic writing, with the latter used more for Japanese words and katakana usually for foreign loanwords and onomatopoeia) and the extra short stories from the original version were omitted. The original story came from a Chinese novel called Journey to the West, published during the Ming dynasty, which would have been very familiar to Japanese children. In this version, after a stone monkey born from the stones of Mount Huaguo (in Jiangsu Province, China) became king of the monkeys, he trained under a mountain hermit and was given the name Songoku in Japanese. He went on a rampage in heaven and was confined by Buddha to the Marble Mountain. This work is an enjoyable picture book that colorfully depicts the lively movements of the characters and humorous expressions of the monkeys. The text was written by the novelist Uno Koji (1891‒1961); the pictures were provided by Honda Shotaro (1893‒1939). Shotaro was a popular children’s painter, who painted illustrations for children since the beginning of the Taisho period (1912‒26) and worked on the famous illustrated magazine for children Kodomo no Kuni (The country of children).

The Fisher-boy Urashima

This is a chirimen-bon (crepe-paper book), which is a compact watojihon (book bound in a traditional Japanese bookbinding style) containing woodblock-printed pictures and text. It was called a chirimen-bon because the paper was made of chirimen (silk crepe fabric). Published from the middle of the Meiji period until the beginning of the Showa period, chirimen-bon were illustrated translations of Japanese folk stories that originally were intended to increase the exposure of Japanese people to foreign languages after kaikoku (the reopening of Japan in the mid-19th century). However, they soon became popular as small souvenirs for foreigners. Kobunsha, the publishing company managed by Hasegawa Takejiro, started to translate and publish Nihon Mukashibanashi (the Japanese fairy tale series) in 1885. The Fisher-boy Urashima is a story from the series. The story appears to date from the eighth century and would have been very familiar to Japanese people. There are variations to the story depending on the intended audience and the period, and it is still known by its Japanese title Urashima Taro. It tells of a young and kind fisherman named Urashima. One day he catches a large turtle while he is out fishing. Taking pity on the turtle, he releases it back into the sea, whereupon the beautiful daughter of the god of the sea appears and tells him that the turtle was actually the personification of her. To thank him for saving her, she invites Urashima to Ryugu-jo (the Palace of the Dragon God) at the bottom of the sea. He then marries her and lives happily at the palace. Three years later he asks for permission to return to his village for a short time, because he wants to see his family. His wife gives him a box and makes him promise not to open it, as he would never be able to come back if he did. When Urashima returns home, he finds that everything has changed during those three years and that his family and his village have disappeared. He had in fact left his village 400 years before, so his parents, siblings and friends were all dead. Not knowing how to get back to the Palace of the Dragon God, he breaks his promise and opens the box, hoping that its contents can help him. After he opens the box, white smoke appears and Urashima turns into a white-haired old man and dies. The illustrations are by Kobayashi Eitaku (also seen as Sensei Eitaku, 1843‒90), who painted in several different styles and specialized in historical subjects and figures. The text of the story is by Basil Hall Chamberlain (1850‒1935), a professor at the Imperial University of Tokyo and an important authority on Japan in the late 19th century.