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The Willehalm
A German hero epic with golden pictures
Vienna, Austrian National Library, Cod. Vindob. 2670, Western Germany, around 1320



Further Pictures


Available as Vol. 14 of the series "Glanzlichter der Buchkunst"

This court epic is perhaps the most famous of the Middle Ages and ranks among the most popular pieces of poetry in history. It was written in the early 13th century by Wolfram von Eschenbach (1170–1220), possibly the foremost representative of Middle High German epic literature. Although little is known about his life, we may assume that he was a member of the nobility. His outstanding literary works have inspired writers throughout the centuries.

Willehalm, a courtly epic poem

Wolfram patterned his famous work on a French chanson de geste of the 12th century. After his defeat near Narbonne and Carcassonne in 793, Willehalm, a hero based on the historic figure of William of Orange, halts the march of the Saracens.
He defends his wife Gyburc, the baptised daughter of the pagan king Terramer who arrives with a pagan army to free her; Gyburc had previously liberated Willehalm from captivity and followed him to his homeland. In the first battle, the Christians are defeated. Now young Rennewart, Gyburc’s brother, enters the scene. Fighting side by side with Willehalm in the second battle, he leads the Christians to victory, with a few strokes of his mace.
In ”Willehalm” the struggle between Christians and pagans, a great theme of Middle High German poetry, corresponds to a battle between the realm of God and that of the Devil in accordance with the crusaders’ ideology. Nonetheless, Wolfram breaks with this classical way of thinking. For the first time, the pagans are given their own religious, ethical significance. They are regarded as creatures of God and treated on an equal footing with the Christians. Closely interwoven with classical elements of courtly romance, such as the hero courting his beloved young lady of the nobility, the writer draws a fascinating picture of courtly life in the Middle High German language.

117 golden miniatures

Our manuscript constitutes possibly the finest version of the Willehalm epic and clearly owes its impressive appearance to the exuberant decoration: countless coloured initials, 22 deluxe initials and no less than 117 miniatures illustrate the fascinating epic tale and also introduce the reader to the exciting world of courtly love.

The facsimile edition

All 702 pages of the manuscript are reproduced in the original format of 31 x 22 cm, together with a total of 177 miniatures and numerous initials. The book is bound in a finely tooled genuine leather binding. It comes with a comprehensive commentary dealing with the historical background and heroes on the manuscript as well as with a description of all individual miniatures in great detail.

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