Book of Wonders

Français 22971 - Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)

Alternate Titles:

Book of the World Wonders, The Secrets of Natural History, Das Buch der Wunder der Natur, Das Buch der Wunder, Libro de las Maravillas del Mundo, Secret de l'histoire naturelle, Les merveilles du monde ou Les secrets de l'histoire naturelle, Livre des merveilles du monde

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Book of the World Wonders
The Secrets of Natural History
Das Buch der Wunder der Natur
Das Buch der Wunder
Libro de las Maravillas del Mundo
Secret de l'histoire naturelle
Les merveilles du monde ou Les secrets de l'histoire naturelle
Livre des merveilles du monde

Type
Extent / Format

200 pages / 30.6 x 20.8 cm

Origin
Date
1480-1485
Style
Genre
Language
Patron

Charles of Angouleme, father of King Francis I of France

Artist / School

Robinet Testard

Illustrations

56 miniatures

Short description

Robinet Testard, one of the most gifted miniaturists of his time, made a masterpiece of book art for Charles d’ Angouleme, the father of the eventual French King Francois I. The book about the wonders of nature is an anonymous document, which was compiled ca. 1400 and presented and described the lands and provinces of the old word. In the years 1480-85, Testard illustrated this grandiose description of sometimes fantastical and mysterious parts of the Earth in his own way in wonderfully fine painting with curious pictorial inventions. The simultaneously entertaining and morally didactic text, in combination with the gorgeous illustrations, is a true gem of 15th century book art.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Book of Wonders

Robinet Testard, one of the most gifted miniaturists of his time, made a masterpiece of book art for Charles d’ Angouleme, the father of the eventual French King Francois I. The book about the wonders of nature is an anonymous document, which was compiled ca. 1400 and presented and described the lands and provinces of the old word. In the years 1480-85, Testard illustrated this grandiose description of sometimes fantastical and mysterious parts of the Earth in his own way in wonderfully fine painting with curious pictorial inventions. The simultaneously entertaining and morally didactic text, in combination with the gorgeous illustrations, is a true gem of 15th century book art.

A Master of his Trade

Robinet Testard counts among the greatest masters of 15th century French illumination. His mastery is evidenced by numerous books of hours and other masterpieces of book art. The French miniaturist was employed by the highest ranking commissioners, Charles d’ Angouleme, the father of the eventual French King Francois I, among them. Testard completed a private book of hours for the Count of Angouleme, among others, with grandiose and curious pictorial inventions. Additionally, the artist was employed by the wife of the count, Louise de Savoy. Robinet Testard has gone down in art history with his works as an exceptional master.

Amazonia, the Land of the Pygmies, Ulu-Land

The Book of Wonders, Les Secrets de l`Histoire Naturelle, consists of two parts. In the first part, the lands and provinces of the Old World are presented and described in alphabetical order, from Africa to Ulu-Land. The second part collects anecdotes and information by Pliny and Solinus concerning additional wonders of the world. Each of the 56 chapters about the various lands and regions of the Earth are accompanied by a wonderful miniature. Thus one finds here, for example, a description of Africa, with the representation of a wonderful world of animals with elephants, dragons, and lions. Snakes, unicorns, dragons, and headless men apparently live in Ethiopia. The mysterious Amazonia is only populated by women, a fire burns on the Aeolian Islands of the Mediterranean. The work thus collects various “countries” such as Great Britain, India, or Judea.

Wondrous Fantasies and Grandiose Realism

In doing so, the author of the compendium relied on the Holy Scriptures and authors like Pliny or Ovid. The division of the world into three regions – Asia, Africa, and Europe – he adopted from Isidor and Orosius. This exciting geographic compilation was composed in France between 1371 and 1428 and offers a wonderful model for grandiose illustrations. The moral-didactic background of the text was neglected in the illustrations in favor of great entertainment value. Robinet Testard found the opportunity here to give his imagination and artistic ability free range, and in doing so found a particularly impressive style. The Book of Wonders, with its artful illustrations, still offers the unique chance to explore the foreign and often curious worlds of the medieval imagination, and simultaneously get to know one of the greatest 15th century miniaturists in an impressive way.

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