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The Textbook for Emperor Maximilian - Gold Edition
Splendiferous illumination for the “Last Knight”
Vienna, Austrian National Library, Cod. Vindob. 2368, Vienna, around 1466

CODICES SELECTI, Vol. CIX

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In the Middle ages, the basic subject matter in teaching was usually arranged with handwriting on simple blackboards, foldable paper boards or even un-illustrated.
Textbooks, richly decorated with miniatures, with a few exceptions, are exceedingly rare. One of the most valuable is that codex, splendidly illuminated in Vienna, that is associated with the famous name of Maximilian I.

From this school book, written about 1466 by the imperial Chancellor Wolfgang Spitzweg, the young Emperor learned his ABC's and prayers such as the Our Father and Ave Maria plus others as well as jingles in the Latin and German languages, in short all basic contents of the then syllabus.

The manuscript is the oldest copy of a group of three known textbooks that were specifically prepared for Maximilian and were all from the same master illuminator. In contrast to the author, the illuminator has remained anonymous. The colorful miniatures, richly decorated with gold, the illuminated initials, the genre scenes and the religious representations, show narrow references to the manorial student. From the beginning, we see Maximilian in a one on one instruction with one of his teachers, when saying grace, the young prince always appears at table.

The cultural and historic meaning of the textbook to Maximilian I cannot be determined with sufficient accuracy. History highlights Maximilian I as being "the last knight and the first mercenary", and it is with this book that the versatilely gifted prince, under whom the Habsburgs rose to be the mightiest dynasty of Europe, learned to read. The exquisite artistic production of this parchment manuscript was the first contact the young Maximilian had with book illumination. It so excited him in its vitality that he became a major sponsor of the genre in later years.

   
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