Picture chronicle and practical guide.A newly discovered German manuscript of great rarity
18 Compilation of history bible and world chronicle, the Antichrist and the XV signs of the Last Judgement and other texts including medicine, astrology and prophesy, all in GermanIllustrated manuscript on paper. Austria, c. 1450.
267 x 182 mm. 133 leaves (of originally probably 165 or 166), original collation impossible to reconstruct, beginnings and endings of quires not clearly discernible. 2 remaining catchwords, original foliation in Roman figures, modern pencil foliation (followed here) omits ‘66’ and so reaches ‘134’ by the end. Fol. 81 and 90 misplaced. – 25-27 lines to the page.Written in brown ink by several scribes in Cursiva Libraria. Capitals touched in red. Many large and small initials in red, some with flourishing, a few with blue penwork, initials on first pages also in blue with red penwork. Six-line blue initial on fol. 1 with red penwork including a human face and red and blue decoration around 2 margins. – 38 coloured coats-of-arms, some with decorative mantling. 58 coloured drawings. – Watermarks: Briquet 2447 (Gurk, 1448) or a close variant. – Many signs of use, some leaves defective with loss of text, some leaves repaired, thumbing and fraying of edges, some dampstaining, nonetheless a remarkable volume. – 16th-century German or Austrian blind-stamped calf over wooden boards, remains of metal clasps and catches, 4 metal bosses on each cover, blue edges. Binding battered and skilfully repaired, quires resewn and inner folds repaired, endpapers replaced.
PROVENANCE: 1. Calendar tables attributed on fol. 55 to Hanns Gmund (1380-1442; cf. Busard 1971) begin in 1439; copies of this calendar were still made as late as c. 1470, (e.g. London, University College, ms. germ. 2). A date around 1450 is confirmed by the watermarks. Singled out in the calendar is only one local saint, Colman of Stockerau (13 October), martyred near Vienna and one of the patrons of Austria. The tables for fortune telling on fol. 66v moreover include the place names of Österreich, Salzburg. 2. 17th-century ownership inscription on the front pastedown, very faded and transcribed, possibly imperfectly, by a later hand on the front flyleaf. In it the owner,Wulff Christoff (?U)dendorff notes that he received the book from a priest in 1613. 3. In the later 19th century owned by Johann Nepomuk Graf von Wilczek (d.1922), Burg Kreuzenstein near Kornburg in Nether Austria. His inventory number on front pastedown. 4. Nicolas Rauch S. A., Geneva, 24/25 Nov. 1953, lot 3. 5. Collection of William Stuart Spaulding (d. 1961) and his wife Angele Louise Maggi (d. 2005), Boston/Gstaat.
TEXT: fol. 1-37v: History Bible and world chronicle – fol. 38- 54v:The Antichrist and the 15 signs – fol. 55-71: Calendar of Hanns Gmund followed by a table of kindred and affinity and further calendar table – fol. 72-100v: Rules for the calculation of specific days of the year followed by medical, meteorological and other advice – fol. 101-119v: Fürstenregel – fol. 120-133v: Devotional text on the Virgin Mary ascribed to St Anselm (initial words missing) – fol. 134v: Number table. The codex at hand contains two major parts separated by the calendar. Part one is a pseudo-historical compilation based, as the incipit states, on various sources (“ausgezogen von vil andern puchern”). Beginning with the Creation it gives a short account of major Old Testament episodes. From the biblical kings it then turns into a chronicle of worldly rulers from Antiquity who are seen as direct ancestors of the Holy Roman emperors listed subsequently.A survey of the papacy demonstrates the struggle between secular and ecclesiastic rulers.The final point is marked by the death of Urban VI in 1389, whose election in 1378 had started the Great Schism. The last pages of part one are dedicated to the eschatological texts of the Antichrist and the 15 signs announcing the end of the world. The Antichrist (the German title “Endkrist” emphasizes even more the medieval belief that his appearance announces the end of the world), the false prophet and corrupter of Christian faith, who is defeated in the end, is a parody of Christ, as can be seen by the account of his miracles, his feigned death and resurrection. Seven manuscripts containing the same ensemble of texts, also known as Constance World Chronicle,were recorded so far (Studt 2002).To them our codex is a hiterto unknown addition. Part two is of an entirely different nature but is equally of high textual interest. It contains advice on everyday life, the calculation of feast days, weather forecast and on medical questions. Appended to this practical guide are a text in the tradition of the mirror of princes, i.e. a didactic treatise on the life and duties of a nobleman and a devotional text. In its combination of two different parts our codex fulfils the function of a medieval housebook dealing with a wide range of subjects from biblical and secular history to pseudo-science and private devotion.
ILLUSTRATION: fol. 1v-2v:The Creation – fol. 5: Noah’s Ark – fol. 6: Sodom and Gomorrah with Lot’s wife metamorphosed into a pillar of salt; Sacrifice of Isaac – fol. 6v: Fictive coats-of-arms – fol. 7: Samson and the lion – fol. 8-33: Coats-of-arms (mainly fictive) of emperors and popes and miniatures of scenes from the lives of St Peter and Paul (14), St Laurence (17v), St Martin (18v), of the burning of the Jews (27v), a procession of penitents (28), the earthquake of Constance in 1356 (29) – fol. 39: Death of Urban VI – fol. 39v-49v: Scenes from the life of the Antichrist – fol. 51v- 54v:The Signs of the Apocalypse. Part one can justly be called a picture book in which the lively drawings constitute the backbone, while the brief text passages are little more than commentaries. Outlined in ink in a swift but experienced hand they are coloured with light washes in a palette of blue, pink, red, brown, green and yellow. The tradition of pen-and-ink drawing reached its peak at the beginning of the 15th century in the South of Germany, Swabia, Bavaria and Austria. While the characterization and precise localization of workshops still remains a largely neglected field of art history, a provenance of our manuscript from Austria is suggested by textual features.
LITERATURE: Sales cat. Rauch, Geneva, 24/25 Nov. 1953, lot 3. Busard 1971; Steer 1978; Studt 2002; Hamburger 2005.