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The Dresden Mirror of Saxony
924 fantastic picture strips of Middle Age German law
Dresden, Sächsische Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Mscr. Dresd. M 32, Meißen, between 1347 and 1363


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The Mirror of Saxony is the most important compilation of legal texts of the Middle Ages. The most sumptuous manuscript of this genre, richly decorated with gold and illuminated with a sheer unbelievable wealth of illustrations, is without any doubt a codex named after its place of conservation the “Dresden Mirror of Saxony”.
With its 924 picture strips on 92 leaves (format 33 x 26 cm), which illustrate the basics of the German legal system in the Middle Ages in astounding multitude, the Dresden Mirror of Saxony not only constitutes a unique work of art but also reflects the culture of the German Middle Ages: no less than 4,000 different persons appear; domestic utensils, tools, vestments and articles of daily use make the Dresden Mirror of Saxony an irreplaceable source for historians specialising in medieval civilisation.

A truly royal work: Gold on every single page

Unfortunately, the artists who participated in the decoration of the work are unknown, but they must have been the best of their time, as all miniatures of the manuscript were executed with the highest perfection and enormous love of detail. Most fascinating is the sheer exuberance of the manuscript’s decoration: each page of the Dresden Mirror of Saxony is richly heightened with gold.

Illustrations and German text in perfect harmony

Facing the text pages on the right, the 924 picture strips, between four and eight per page, explain the text of the Mirror of Saxony. Countless decorative initials, uppercase letters and majuscules divide the columns. In addition, the picture strips are linked to the German text through golden and colourful capital letters.

Margrave Frederick of Meissen as the patron?

The Dresden Mirror of Saxony was presumably made between 1347 and 1363, probably in Meissen. At this time, the residence of the margraves of Meissen was the centre of Upper Saxony. Among Margrave Frederick’s III (1349–1381) main concerns were the improvement of the administration and the codification of customary law.

The legal work of Eike von Repgow

Born around 1180 near Dessau, Eike von Repkow was a witness at the court and advisor of several rulers. In the face of their power struggles, particularly between the Guelf and Hohenstaufen dynasties, and before the background of the German colonisation in the regions east of the rivers Elbe and Saale, he strived to create a secure legal situation. Between 1220 and 1235, he thus decided to lay down the customary law used by the courts of justice.

A widely used basic legal text

Eike von Repkow’s text, known as the “Mirror of Saxony”, enjoyed widespread use: more than 400 manuscripts or fragments survive and bear testimony to the great importance of this text. It informs us about the legal status of nearly all groups of persons and classes of society: of sovereigns and knights, of peasants and the clergy.

Two sections: Landrecht and Lehnrecht

The Mirror of Saxony is divided into two parts: Landrecht, or territorial law, and Lehnrecht, a section made up of feudal regulations. The prologue speaks of the close relationship of God and mankind and warns all human beings to respect these laws that allegedly were decreed by the Roman emperor Constantine (307–377) and Charlemagne (768–814). Landrecht comprises all domains having to do with the possession of land, the right of succession and legal statutes regarding marriage; it additionally contains the penal and constitutional law, i.e. criminal and civil law and procedure. The feudal regulations describe the hierarchic order of the Middle Ages, from the order of military shields to the feudal jurisdiction.

“Environmental law” and “Road traffic regulations”

The down-to-earth character of the Mirror of Saxony certainly contributed to its widespread use. Several aspects of it are still in force today or have provided the basis for current legal standards. One major aspect was the regulation concerning life in the rural communities. The narrow roads in the villages required the right of way in case two carts met at a cross-roads. As a lightweight vehicle has less difficulty to make way, it was provided that empty carts would have to give way to loaded ones, such as pedestrians to persons on horseback. Other regulations provide for the distance to be kept from the oven as a source of danger as well as for the distance of lavatories and pigsties to avoid odour, thus proving a certain environmental awareness in the interest of the community.

The painted manuscripts of the Mirror of Saxony

Among the 400 surviving copies of the Mirror of Saxony, four illuminated luxury manuscripts stand out in particular: our Dresden codex – artistically speaking the most precious and most richly illuminated of all – as well as the Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony (around 1300) containing 310 picture strips, the Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony (around 1365) with 776 picture strips and the Oldenburg Mirror of Saxony (1336) with its 578 picture strips. The latter was also reproduced years ago by ADEVA and the edition was sold out soon after publication.

The fine art facsimile edition

In order to preserve the precious, recently restored manuscript, Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt Graz were charged with the reproduction of this unique work of art by the Saxon State Library – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden.
All 92 leaves with their 924 picture strips in the original format of 33 x 26 cm have been reproduced down to the minutest detail in proven quality. An impressive feature is the reproduction of gold to be found on every single page of the manuscript. Each leaf has been trimmed in accordance with the original. Up-to-date electronic processes paired with the traditional, centuries-old art of bookbinding guarantee perfect results. The quires have been assembled, stitched and attached to five raised bands. The binding, a faithful reproduction of the current original binding, consists of a noble wooden board half-covered with genuine leather. The case is made of the same wood as the cover of the facsimile volume, completing the exquisite appointment of the edition.

The commentary volumes

A team of internationally reputed specialists directed by Prof. Dr. Heiner Lück, full professor at the Faculty of Law of the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg and a full member of the Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften in Leipzig, is in charge of both the commentary and the text volumes. They contain both a detailed description of the manuscript and all the illustration as well as an exact edition of the entire text.

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