Golden Bull

Cod. Vindob. 338 - Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)

Alternate Titles:

Goldene Bulle, Goldene Bulle des Königs Wenzel

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Goldene Bulle
Goldene Bulle des Königs Wenzel

Type
Extent / Format

160 pages / 42.0 x 30.0 cm

Origin
Date
1400
Style
Genre
Language
Patron

Wenceslas IV (1361-1419), King of Bohemia and emperor

Artist / School

Master of the Golden Bull

Illustrations

One large decorative page, richly ornamented in the margin, 50 miniatures in the text and numerous initial letters in gold and colours

Short description

This magnificent illuminated manuscript was wrapped up in the political turmoil ca. 1400 and was intended as a form of medieval propaganda by King Wencelas of Bohemia. The Vienna Codex 338 is a copy of the Golden Bull and is of prime historical and political significance, not to mention its masterful calligraphy and adornment. The Golden Bull, promulgated in 1365 by Emperor Charles IV with the consent of two diets in Nuremberg and Metz, represented the main constitutional law of the German Empire and, as a basic constitutional law, remained in force for nearly half a millennium, up until 1806. This edition is noteworthy for its incredible initials in particular, which are arguably the finest in medieval illumination and even take the form of figural miniatures at two important places in the text.

Facsimile editions available

Description

The Most Glorius Edition of the Oldest German Law

The Vienna Codex 338 is a copy of the Golden Bull made in 1400 with illumination of superior quality. It is therefore considered to be the most beautiful version of all manuscripts of this text that have survived to this day. From an artistic point of view, the luxurious manuscript belongs to the tradition of Bohemian book painting. Its 48 miniatures and countless colored initials enchant the beholder even today. The uniformity of the written script as well as the text layout contribute to the outstanding beauty of the manuscript and, together with the miniatures and initials, form a harmonious ensemble. The manuscript is a document of prime importance also on a political and historical level, due to the finishing touch stating that it was made in the year 1400 on the initiative of the Roman and Bohemian King Wenceslas. The ceremonial copy was meant to legitimate Wenceslas’ claim to the office of King of the Romans which had just been withdrawn from him, and also the most eminent document in the negotiations with the Pope regarding the coronation of the German Emperor in Rome.

The Finest Version of the Golden Bull

The particular charm of the manuscript resides in its 48 sumptuous miniatures. They are considered to be the work of a single anonymous master known as ”Master of the Golden Bull”. The painted scenes all refer to the election of the emperor and the exercise of rights. The background of the miniatures is either applied with gold leaf or in color, and damascened with shell gold. The interlace surrounding the miniatures comprises acanthus leaves in blue, rose, green and grey. Here and there drop-shaped buds in gold leaf are playfully added to the branching foliage. The scenes of the Golden Bull are characterised by a festive atmosphere. An important feature is the painter’s predilection for exuberant plies and rounded forms, for strong and curly hair and strongly projecting noses. The beginnings of chapters and some paragraphs are marked by coloured initials some of which are ornate with gold and elaborate interlace. A highlight of the art of initial painting, as practised by specialized artists, is achieved with the integration of figural depictions. The initial in its most noteworthy artistic form thus becomes a figural miniature. This form of historiated initial occurs twice in the manuscript, both times to mark important passages in the text.

A Masterpiece of Calligraphy

The script of the codex also deserves great attention. It is a beautifully calligraphed Gothic book script (textualis formata or textura) written by an anonymous scribe. The chapter beginnings are all highlighted with red ink, while some at the beginning of the manuscript are outlined in golden letters in a highly representative manner.

A Prominent Source of History

The Golden Bull, promulgated in 1365 by Emperor Charles IV with the consent of two diets in Nuremberg and Metz, represented the main constitutional law of the German Empire and, as a basic constitutional law, remained in force for nearly half a millennium, up until 1806. Its main purpose was to regulate the election of the German Emperor. King Wenceslas IV, son of Emperor Charles IV, commissioned a copy in 1400 for political reasons, which was then produced in his famous court workshop. The luxurious Latin manuscript contains not only the Golden Bull after which it is named (aurea bulla imperialium constitucionum) but also a treatise on the appropriate time for an Italian campaign (tractatus de habilitate temporis ad processum versus Italiam), a letter on King Wenceslas, the successor of Charles IV, (epistola de successore), and a directory of cities and castles in Tuscia (civitates et castra). It is the only legal work among the seven known codices which have been confirmed as originating from the huge library formerly belonging to Wenceslas, including the famous Wenceslas Bible, the oldest German de luxe Bible manuscript we know of.

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