Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria

Ms. 9085 - Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique (Bruxelles, Belgium)

Alternate Titles:

Les basses danses de Marguerite d'Autriche, Tanzbüchlein der Margarete von Österreich

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Alternate Titles

Les basses danses de Marguerite d'Autriche
Tanzbüchlein der Margarete von Österreich

Extent / Format

56 pages / 12.8 x 21.0 cm

Around 1470

Mary of Burgundy, wife of Emperor Maximilian I


Notes in silver, texts in gold and ornaments

Former owners

Maria von Ungarn
King Philip II of Spain

Short description

As restrictions on music and dancing were relaxed by the Catholic Church in the course of the Middle Ages, dancing became more common and the dances more complex. Dancing became an essential part of court life, knowing the right dances was an indicator that one came from the right strata of society, that one belonged. Therefore, instructive books became popular as learning aids and reference works, especially for young nobles learning to be ladies and gentlemen. The Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria is an especially rare and beautiful example thereof from the 15th century. This is because it is one of the few so-called "black manuscripts" to survive to the present and is decorated with gold and silver to further highlight its unusual aesthetic.

Facsimile editions available


Enchanting Golden Calligraphy on Black Parchment

The Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria was conceived ca. 1470 as an aid for dancers doing the ”Basses Danses” so popular in Europe. It is among the few illuminated manuscripts to be made using vellum that has been dyed black, thus making possible a wholly unusual color palette.

Music in Silver and Gold

After an impressive page showing several coats of arms, the Dancing Book commences with a brief theoretical section complete with 59 different dances. Each page bears a golden lineation on which the titles of the dances, together with texts, musical notes and step designations, are written in both gold and silver. Almost all the pages of the manuscript are ornamented with initials. Their vigorous interlace leads us to the assumption that the manuscript constitutes a masterpiece of courtly art. It is rightly assumed that this book once belonged to Mary of Burgundy, the wife of Emperor Maximilian I who left it to her daughter Margaret, the future govenor general of the Low Countries. The book later passed into the hands of King Philip II of Spain and remained in the Burgundian library of the Habsburg dynasty until it was transferred to the Bibliothèque Royale.

An Extremely Rare Manuscript on Black Vellum

The ”Basses Danses” owes its singularity not only to its musical contents and significance for the history of European culture, but also to its masterly execution of calligraphy in gold and silver and last but not least to its unusual writing material. The Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria is one of only seven surviving manuscripts written on black-dyed parchment. This jewel unique in the history of book production impressively displays the luxury of the Burgundian court.

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