Selection of interesting documents

  • Paris Fragment of the Chronicle of Dalimil 
  • The so-called Paris Fragment contains a part of the richly illustrated Latin translation of the oldest rhymed chronicle written in Czech, known as the Dalimil Chronicle. The fragment had been kept in the private collection of a wealthy family in Paris and its discovery by the expert community in 2005 was a great surprise. Nobody had known of the existence of a Latin translation of this text and since a chronicle in verse written in the vernacular was intended for a secular readership without a formal school education, nobody would expect this type of text to have been translated into Latin. The discovery of the manuscript and its availability in digital form are an incentive to reconsider the role of Czech history in a pan-European context.
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  • Passional of the Abbess Kunigunde 
  • This manuscript, dating from the years 1314-1321, contains exceptional specimens of book illustration. It was ordered and its content inspired by the daughter of the Czech King Přemysl Otakar II, who held the office of Abbess of the renowned Benedictine Convent of St George at Prague Castle. The work is an anthology of mystic treatises on the theme of Christ‘s passion, two of which were composed by the Dominican Kolda of Koldice, who is depicted on f. lv together with the scribe Beneš, in the act of dedicating the book to Kunigunde on her throne.

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  • Velislav’s Bible
  • The most extensive surviving illustrated manuscript from medieval Central Europe was created around the mid 14th century at the instigation of Velislav, who is known to us from illustrations(f. 188r), but we can only assume that he was a Prague canon of the same name occupying the office of notary, protonotary and diplomat to the Czech Kings John of Luxemburg and Charles IV. This medieval comic represents mainly biblical narratives. It contains the beginning of the Old Testament, parts of the Gospels and of the Deeds of the Apostles and the complete Apocalypse, also a cycle on the Antichrist and a Christological cycle. At the end of the codex is appended a cycle on the Czech patron saints Wenceslas and Ludmila. The idea of the work is the incorporation of Czech history in the historical process of redemption and the context of translatio imperii, i.e. the transfer of the kingdom from Moravia to Bohemia. The manuscript is an exceptional source for the study of scenes of everyday life (battle scenes, crafts, feasts etc.), as well as for the history of fashion, which is here influenced by the latest patterns in the French style. 
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  • Richenthal’s chronicle of the Council of Constance
  • Richenthal‘s Chronicle depicts the participants and the proceedings of the Council of Constance (1414-1418) one of the most important events of the Late Middle Ages, when the most notable church representatives and secular rulers attempted to solve the problem of the schism in the western church. The author was an eyewitness to the Council, Ulrich von Richenthal, a burgher of Constance. His work is valued for its realistically conceived images, to which he added brief textual commentaries. The images depict participants of the Council, namely a number of secular rulers, church dignitaries and members of the most varied monastic orders.The author also recorded the proceedings of various ceremonies and trials, funerals and other events, as well as scenes from the market-place and other everyday situations. The depiction of the accident that befell the Pisa Pope John XXIII, whose carriage overturned during his flight from Constance, is well known. The most significant images for Czech history are probably the depiction of the burning at the stake of Jan Hus and Jeronym of Prague, towards whom the author adopts a negative attitude. The attached listing of the coats of arms of the participants of the Council is also a significant heraldic source.
  • Jaroš Griemiller from Třebsko: Rosarium Philosophorum
  • This manuscript from the year 1578 is the most notable literary testimonial to the high level of alchemy research in Bohemia, subsequently concentrated at the Prague Court in the reign of Emperor Rudolf II at the turn of the 16th to 17th centuries. It is a Czech translation of an extensive alchemist treatise, first published in Frankfurt by Jakub Cyriac . It consists of a compilation of texts on this theme from the mid-15th century and even earlier. It is assumed that the author of the Czech translation was closely associated with the  provincial assayer, i.e. the quality inspector of precious metals, Pavel Griemiller of Třebsko, who also practised alchemy. This work depicts a  fictitious  congress of alchemists and historical and  mythical characters, amongst whom we find e.g. Adam, Moses, Vergil etc. The text contains inter alia a guide to the prepation of a philosopher’s stone. The elaborate symbolic iconography of the manuscript makes it one of the most notable European woks on alchemy.
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  • Ignaz Tirsch: Codex pictorius Mexicanus
  • The author of the manuscript, Ignác Tirsch (1733-1781), was a member of the Jesuit order and as a missionary he left for Mexico in the year 1755. There he continued his studies and on their completion he worked in missions in Baja California among Indians of the Pericu tribe. His coloured drawings with German and Spanish captions capture the landscape in the south of the California peninsula (he visited San José del Cabo and Santiago, at that time the southernmost  promontory of the peninsula, today part of Mexico). In detailed scenes, the author  depicts individual examples of the local flora and fauna. We also find sketches of scenes from the life of the natives and of the European colonists and missionaries. Tirsch also makes modest attempts to depict the interaction between the two cultures.
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  • Arnold of Meissen’s Lectionary
  • This is the winter section of the two-volume lectionary named Arnold’s Lectionary, after its scribe. It is believed to have been commissioned by Bernard of Kamenec, Provost, later Bishop, of Meissen and later, from 1179-1190, Chancellor to the Duke of Saxony, Henry IV, surnamed Probus. From the year 1290 he was active at the Prague court of Wenceslas II and as an expert in Silesian and Polish affairs became his chief adviser during the expansion into Poland. Bernard dedicated the manuscript to the Cistercian Convent in Marienstern, Upper Lusatia, which he helped the rulers of Kamenec to found in the year 1248.  Lectionaries were a customary aid at mass, containing extracts from the Bible and the holy fathers which were read out at church services. This copy contains highly valuable ornamental and figurative initials with biblical motifs and it is a very high quality specimen of Czech book illustration of the late 13th century.
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  • Prayers of Milíč 
  • Many of the texts contained in this manuscript, believed to date from the 1380s, consist of frequently simplified and otherwise adapted or popularised (e.g. linguistically intensified) translations of Latin sequences and hymns intended for lay religious persons.  Their sources are  patristic texts and the Bible.  The themes of many prayers relate to communion and other holy sacraments.
    The authorship of some of the texts is ascribed to Milíč of Kroměříž and other texts in the manuscript are on the same lines in terms of style and content. It is presumed that the prayers were read out in public after the sermons for which Milíč of Kroměříž was so famous.
    The manuscript also preserves transcripts of rare old Czech texts. Here we find both basic prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments and the oldest Czech spiritual songs, including  the 11th century score without musical notation of the hymn Lord have Mercy on us and the 12th century hymn St Wenceslas.
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  • Codex gigas
  • As the commonly used title of this manuscript suggests, the Codex Gigas, dating from the first third of the thirteenth century, is a book of remarkable proportions. At 90 cm in height and 50 in width, weighing 75 kilograms, it is the largest known manuscript book in the world. It is believed to be the work of one monk belonging to the Benedictine Monastery of Podlažice in eastern Bohemia. To its unusual dimensions, the costs of its preparation and also the full-page coloured drawing of the Devil on f. 289r. it owes its alternative name – The Devil’s Bible. In addition to biblical texts, the work Flavia and Isidora and several further minor works it contains a penitential, a calendar and also one of the copies of Cosmas’s Chronicle (1119-1125), the oldest historiographical work relating to the Czech Lands. Certain other parts of the Codex, in particular the Orders of St. Benedict, have not survived.
    The book was not intended for everyday reading; in fact, its dimensions in combination with the relatively small hand render this impossible. Besides this, the majority of the texts it contains are written in a form which was archaic even at the time of the Codex’s creation. The Codex Gigas is a symbolic representation of a library depicting the macrocosm in the eyes of a representative of traditional Benedictine scholarship and culture.

 

  • Bautzen Manuscript of Cosmas’s Chronicle
  • In terms of content evidently the most significant of fifteen known (and twelve surviving) manuscripts of the oldest Czech chronicle written between 1119 and 1125. The Bautzen manuscript dates from the turn of  the 12th/13th centuries and was named after its pre-war repository, the Gersdorf Library in Bautzen. This text was the basis for Bretholz’s critical edition published in 1923, used to this day by historians, and in view of the fact that this is the most important early medieval chronicle in the Czech Lands it can be said to be the starting point for historiographical interpretation of early Czech history. The Prague canon Cosmas wrote a mature literary work describing the history, roots and historical role of the Czechs from the standpoint of the ruling Přemyslid dynasty. The manuscript is not illuminated, but on f. 1r an early image of the castle is attached, with the figures of Čech and Lech.
  • Liber viaticus by John of Streda
  • This travelling breviary contains psalms, hymns and ceremonies for feasts throughout the year. In this work some of them relate to Czech patrons. The manuscript is very richly illuminated and in the stems of the initials we often find realistically represented faces and figures, real and fantasy animals and notable ornamentation.
  • The manuscript was originally commissioned by the then Bishop of Litomšl, John of Streda, who occupied the office of protonotary and chancellor to Charles IV and who was his confidant. He was well known for his own literary activity and his connections with the Italian humanists led by Petrarca. His official positions enabled him to support the production of manuscripts and he also inspired their content. He sponsored the education of his scribes, calligraphers and illuminators and for the most talented of them he arranged stipends enabling them to devote themselves to their artistic work full-time. Liber viaticus is the high point of the output concentrated around John of Streda, whose innovative conception influenced book illustration in Bohemia throughout the following period. The illuminator was influenced in his style by panel painting and Italian and Parisian models and in the dominant decorative motif, the acanthus leaf, evidently also by goldsmithing or stonemasonry.
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  • Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift (Codex Manesse)
  • The Codex Manesse was created in Zurich between 1300 and 1340 and it contains 140 collections of Middle High German songs and poetry comprising in total over 6,000 stanzas. The chief source for the manuscript was the collection of the Zurich patrician Rüdiger Manesse, after whom the codex was also named. This is the most renowned source of post-classical Minnesang. The words of the songs date from the mid 12th century to the time of the manuscript’s creation. Accompanying miniatures from the lives of aristocratic poets in idealised form represent various activities at court – chivalric tournaments, banquets, bath houses, hunting etc.
  • The original codex is now kept at the Heidelberg University Library. It found its way here for the first time at the beginning of the 17th century and became part of the renowned Palatinate Library, known as the Bibliotheca Palatina. During the Thirty Years War, part of it was given to the Pope by Maxmilian of Bavaria, and during the Napoleonic Wars the French seized some of its manuscripts, including the Codex Manesse. Because of the great importance of the manuscript for German culture protracted negotiations took place for the return of the manuscript to Germany, which could not be agreed until 1888, during the chancellorship of Bismarck.
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  • Evangeliarium Zabrdovicense (Quattuor evangelia); Vědecká knihovna v Olomouci
  • Zábrdovice Gospels
  • The Zábrdovice Gospels from the second half of the 11th century are believed to come from the Bavarian Tegernsee-Freising scriptorium and may, like other manuscripts, the Apocalypse of St Vitus and the Vyšehrad Codex, be associated with the occasion of the coronation of Vratislav II as the first historical King of Bohemia (1085). The Bavarian school of painting of that time was founded on the tradition of Carolingian and Ottonian book illustration, already somewhat conservative or archaic. The decoration of the Zábrdovice Gospels is considered by art historians as partly adhering to that tradition and partly exhibiting features of the new elements which would not fully emerge in the culture of book production until the 12th century.
  • Soon after their creation, the Gospels found their way to the chapter house library of Prague Castle. Later, under circumstances that are not fully known, they were found in the Premonstratensian Convent at Zábrdovice near Brno and at the end of the 18th century, following the closure of the Convent, they became the property of Olomouc University Library.
  • The text of the Gospels is written in Carolingian minuscule and contains four complete gospels with the relevant prefaces and the texts of the breviaries and capitularies. The illumination of the Zábrdovice Gospels consists of ornamental initials embellished with vegetal or zoomorphic motifs and nine canon tables (ff. 18v-22v) with images symbolising the evangelists.
  • Anthology of Count Baworowský
  • This manuscript, dating from the year 1472, named after its last private owner, is one of the most renowned works of medieval literature written in Czech. Works written in Old Czech preserved in this manuscript are strongly influenced by contemporary literature written in German, often involving paraphrasing or direct translation. The text renders epic tales in verse, such as Czech heraldic tales similar to the German Chronicles of Stilfrid and Brunswik, a Czech verse translation of Romulus’s edition of sixty fables of Aesop, a Czech translation of the Song of Ernst, popular in the German Lands, the romantic poem Tandariuš and Floribella and the Song of Dietrich von Bern, both also translated from German sources, and an incomplete Czech version of a novel in prose about  Apollo, King of Tyre.
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  • Moravská zemská knihovna v Brně
  • Der Neusohler Cato
  • This German anthology containing all the most important entertainingly didactic works in high medieval literature was created in the year 1452 in Banská Bystrica, a mining town in Upper Hungary where, as throughout the wider region, there was a sizeable German community following the period of colonisation in the 13th century (the town is known in German as Neusohl).
  • The manuscript consists of a number of parts of varying provenance. All the works are written in German. In addition to the Disticha Catonis, a collection of proverbs and moral advice taken from the anonymous late classical author Dionysius Cato, it includes further very popular and widely disseminated texts: the Travelogue of Mandeville, Lucidarius, i.e. a simplified and abridged popular form of medieval encyclopedia, the Letter of Rabbi Samuel, the original Indian or Persian narrative The Seven Sages and the Gesta Romanorum.