Wenceslas Bible

Codices Vindobonenses 2759-2764 - Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)

Alternate Titles:

Wenzelsbibel, Bibel des Köönigs Wenzel, Wenzel Bible

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Wenzelsbibel
Bibel des Köönigs Wenzel
Wenzel Bible

Type
Extent / Format

2,352 pages / 53.0 x 36.5 cm

Origin
Date
1389-1400
Style
Genre
Language
Patron

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

Illustrations

646 large miniatures, countless illuminated borders and initials

Short description

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg was not the first German-language Bible. In fact, the Wenceslas Bible predates it by almost 150 years. The massive, multi-volume Bible was made in Prague at the behest of King Wencesals I of Bohemia between 1390 and 1400 and is considered to be a primary work of medieval illumination. Aside from the important German translation of the Bible, the manuscript contains some of the finest illumination in art history including 646 miniatures and endless marginal depcitions with entertaining and humorous drolleries. This magnum opus is housed today among the splendid collections of the Austrian National Library.

Facsimile editions available

Description

The First Splendid German Bible Manuscript

Almost 150 years before Luther’s translation of the Bible was first published, one of the most reputed schools of illumination in Prague produced the first German deluxe Bible manuscript. The Wenceslas Bible, with its 646 miniatures and rich, frequently symbolical and narrative marginal decoration, was written at the behest of King Wenceslas I of Bohemia between 1390 and 1400. Words are insufficient to describe the elaborate, extremely lavish decoration of this luxury Bible. Wenceslas summoned the best illuminators of Europe to his court in Prague where they created this unique manuscript. Unfortunately, the artists have all remained anonymous.

The First Deluxe Bible Manuscript in German

A chef-d’œuvre of Wenceslas’ workshop and a major achievement of European illumination, the Wenceslas Bible had only raised the interest of art historians until recently. Its distinction as a bibliophilic gem of the first order should, however, not make us forget that with more than 2,400 pages, it also constitutes a highly important, if not the most important and finest documentation of pre-Reformation Bible translation. Of the three volumes originally planned (two tomes for the Old, one for the New Testament) only the two of the Old Testament were executed. By the 18th century the manuscript had grown to enormous size and filled six volumes, when it found its way from the Bohemian court to that of the Habsburg dynasty. Today, the giant-format books are kept in the Austrian National Library.

The Fascinating World of Drolleries

The marginal decorations of the Wenceslas Bible are almost as fascinating as its miniatures. These drolleries are characterised by an unmistakable sense of humor. Among the main protagonists, one finds a girl dressed in a short, shirt-like garment whose attributes – a bucket and a sponge – identify her as a bathing maiden. She is accompanied by a male figure, probably King Wenceslas himself, who frequently appears captured in the letters W and E. In addition, countless allegorical creatures, such as the wild man or the kingfisher, roam throughout the book.

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