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The Wenceslas Bible – Complete Edition
The first splendid German manuscript of the bible
Vienna, Austrian National Library, Codices Vindobonenses 2759-2764, Prague, 1389-1400

CODICES SELECTI, Vol. LXX

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Further Pictures

 

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 out on request of King Wenceslas I of Bohemia between 1390 and 1400.
The elaborate, extremely lavish, decoration of this luxury Bible cannot be described in a few words. Wenceslas had 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 German deluxe Bible manuscript

A chef-d’œuvre of Wenceslas’ workshop and a major achievement of European illumination, the Wenceslas Bible had till now only raised the interest of art historians. Its distinction as a bibliophile 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, text document 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 the ownership of the Habsburg dynasty. Today, the giant-size books are kept in the Austrian National Library.

The fascinating world of drolleries

Almost as fascinating as the miniatures of the Wenceslas Bible are its marginal decorations. These drolleries are characterised by an unmistakable sense of humour. Among the main protagonists is 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.

The facsimile edition

All 2,428 pages of the manuscript are reproduced in the original format of 53 x 36.5 cm, compiled in 9 volumes and totalling 464 miniatures and countless drolleries. Two commentary volumes describe the miniatures and present the contents of the manuscript in all its aspects.

The single volumes:
Vol. 1:     GENESIS and EXODUS
Vol. 2:     LEVITICUS and NUMERI
Vol. 3:     DEUTERONOMIUM and JOSUA
Vol. 4:     RICHTER, RUTH and SAMUEL I
Vol. 5:     SAMUEL II, KINGS I
Vol. 6:     KINGS II, CHRONIK I
Vol. 7:     CHRONIK II, ESRA I, ESRA II
Vol. 8:     ESRA III, TOBIAS, PREDIGER
Vol. 9:     Documentation Volume
two commentary volumes

   
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