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Medieval Manuscripts

The Manuscrip­t Collection of the Research Library in Olomouc is one of the most valuable collections of its kind in the Czech Re­public. The core of this collection dates to the second half of the 18th century, after collections from abolished Moravian Jesuit colleges in Brno, Telč, Jihlava, Znojmo, and Uherské Hradiště were transferred to the Olomouc university library of that time (the predecessor of the current VKOL) in 1775. Several years later the library collections of the 34 monasteries abolished by Emperor Josef II were also transferred to Olomouc. Aft erwards the collection of manuscripts from that period was only sporadically expanded; nevertheless, it represents one of the most extensive collections of medieval and Early Renaissance literature in the country and contains numerus codices of incalculable historical and artistic value. the Olomouc Bible

The collection of medieval manuscripts contains over 400 titles. The origin of the oldest codices held by the VKOL reaches as far back as the second half of the 11th century; five codices date to the 12th century while ten date to the 13th century. A total of 126 manuscripts are from the 14th century and the greatest number of manuscripts (259 specimens) were created in the 15th century. From a linguistic perspective, the greatest number of manuscripts are those written in Latin; 15 codices are written in German, 12 in Czech, and 4 are written in Greek.

 Thematically, the majority of medieval parchment manuscripts concern theological literature, including four of the most important manuscripts held by the VKOL. Two Czech Bible translations from the 15th century are the pre-eminent works in the collection. Of extraordinary importance is the two-volume Olomouc Bible (call number M III 1), which contains the most complete preserved first edition Czech translation of a biblical text. The Olomouc Bible dates to 1417 and in addition to its linguistic importance is also exceptional for its illumination decoration. The Bible contains 76 high-quality, mainly figural and scenic vignettes, which are part of the initials of individual books of the Bible.

the Boskovice BibleThe second Czech Bible is the Boskovice Bible (M III 3), which is named after the first known owner of the codex, Václav Černohorský of Boskovice who, according to the letter on page 534, gave the Bible to one of his offi cials in 1565. This extraordinary Czech text ontains, among others, a Czech translation of the second critique written primarily in the Hussite orthographic diacritics. In addition to this, the manuscript with lavish gold leaf is exceptional above all for its unusually rich painted artwork. A total of 82 remarkably high-quality, mainly fi gural vignettes represent one of the top works of Czech book illustration from the first third of the 15th century (the latest estimates date the Bible to 1415). It is assumed that at least three illuminators contributed to the ornamentation of the codex. These artists skilfully highlight the physiognomy and elaborate costumes of individual characters. The works are also unusual for their structured spatial composition. Several vignettes toward the end of the text are incomplete and only the artists’ outlines remain. This, however, offers fine evidence of the illuminators’ techniques.

The Louka Gradual (M IV 1) is named aft er the presumed site of its creation, the former Premonstratensian monastery in Louka near the town of Znojmo. At 61×44×15 cm this work is one of the largest documents in the library collection and its eighteen figural initials, mainly with illustrations of saints, is unique evidence of the development of book painting at the turn of the Late Gothic to the Early Renaissance periods. The codex from the year 1499 represents the masterwork of Egidio Has, who ranked as one of the greatest illuminators of his time. Also noteworthy are the decorative borders, the foliate patterned ornamentation, and figural scenes featuring, for example, sitting monkeys, a fox with a cock in its maw, and a hunter firing at a bird.

The oldest manuscript in the VKOL is the Zábrdovice Gospel (M II 74), named after the Premonstratensian monastery in Brno – Zábrdovice, from whence it was brought to Olomouc. The Gospel is also one of the oldest illuminated manuscripts in the country and its association with the Bavarian school of painting enable it to be dated to sometime in the second half of the 11th century. The Latin text of all four gospels is written in Carolingian minuscule. The manuscript’s decoration corresponds to the Romanesque style that predominated at the time it was created and is therefore noticeably simpler than codices from the High Gothic. The basic decoration involves ornamental initials with foliate and zoomorphic motifs and rich gold leaf. The ornamentation is most distinct in nine fullpage canon panels that look like Romanesque windows, with symbols of the Evangelists and richly decorated with gold.

All four manuscripts have Czech cultural heritage status and in addition to these works the library also possesses numerous other illuminated manuscripts, including those with first-rate 12th–15th century book illustration. These include several missals (liturgice books used during Mass), graduals, and antiphonaries (liturgice hymnbooks) of various origin: the Prague Missal (M III 9) from around 1365, with decorative illustrations by the Master of the Křížovnice Breviary, the Missal of Scrivener Štěpán (M III 6) from the Olomouc scribal workshop and one of the works demonstrativ the beautiful style at the turn of the 15th century, and works by the Master of Friedrich’s Breviary, one of the foremost personalities of Moravian book illustration of the 15th century (M III 7, M IV 6, M IV 2). A somewhat different style of illustration can be seen in the richly illuminated Latin Bible of Arnošt of Pardubice (M III 2), which originated in France in the second half of the 13th century.

The collection of medieval manuscripts also contains works that are not outstanding examples of decorative illustration but whose value is mainly connected with their historical importance. These manuscripts include the set of fourteen tracts by Petr Chelčický in manuscript M I 164 and the Hussite Czech works Concerning Escheat, Nine Gold Pieces, A Short Exegesis of the Spine, the Spine of Evil People, and the other Latin texts in collection M I 34. Also occupying a unique place in Czech letters is a cycle of amusing medieval prose named the Olomouc Tales after the home of the manuscript. The collection of 35 tales from the second half of the 15th century is part of codex M II 190.

The manuscript collection, which in addition to theological texts also contains legal manuscripts (e. g. the Vienna Statute and the Jihlava Statute – M I 150 a M I 271), natural science manuscripts (e. g. Astronomy – M II 4, Ptolemaic Cosmography – M I 90), and medical manuscripts, is compiled according to the inventory by M. Boháček and F. Čáda (Boháček, M.; Čáda, F: Beschreibung der mittelalterlichen Handschrift en der Wissenschaftlichen Staatsbibliothek von Olmütz. Köln, Böhlau 1994). This inventory presents the names of a codex, the incipit and explicit, and typically also commentary describing the given work in greater detail. The inventory of individual manuscripts also includes bibliographical informatik on the literature the specific work concerns.

The medieval manuscripts are being gradually digitalized and made available in electronic form, and in this way it is possible to view all of the most important manuscripts held by the VKOL. Digital images are available in the VKOL digital library (http://dig.vkol.cz) and in the Manuscriptorium international digital library of historical collections (http://www.manuscriptorium.com). Digital images of the highest quality are not available in the digital libraries; for security reasons researchers can view higher quality images in the historici collections reading room at the VKOL. It is also possible to have manuscripts copied to CD-ROMs here for study and publication purposes.

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Updated: 17.01.2013Bookmark and Share
Author: Rostislav Krušinský
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