Monday, February 11, 2008


Eagle motif in St. John’s Gospel:8th-century Northumbrian mss

Click through the picture to experience my disappointment in not finding a larger version of this wonderful image. Actually, to truly experience my disappointment you will need to (painlessly) register at the Parker Library site and then try searching several whichways to unsuccessfully hunt down the manuscript. Tease.

The eagle illustration represents St John and comes from an 8th century Northumbrian gospel manuscript. Although it does not appear to have been uploaded as yet, if you enjoy seeing illumination work from previously inaccessible and priceless manuscripts, this site is a worthy place to spend some time.

"A new website,, will eventually include high-resolution images of every page of Corpus Christi's Parker Library [Cambridge University]. The remarkable collection includes 538 manuscripts spanning the sixth to the 16th centuries. [..] The beta version currently online includes about a sixth of the total content that eventually will be available. The project is scheduled for completion in late 2009."

"The beta site will be fully and freely accessible at least through 2008. But once the site's development and content are complete, full access will be available through institutional subscriptions only."

George Catlin - Souvenir of the N. American Indians - 1850

George Catlin - Souvenir of the N. American Indians - 1850 - robes

The above two images are from a fantastic sketch album: 'Souvenir of the N. American Indians, as they were in the Nineteenth Century' by George Catlin, 1850 at NYPL. [See Wikipedia for further associated links]

Schall 8-part cosmological map - 1634

"Adam Schall was the first European ever to have been a member of the court bureaucracy in Peking. As part of his duties as head of the Office of Astronomy, he produced this large and truly spectacular six-part cosmological map, accompanied by pictures of astronomical instruments."

Although these Library of Congress images (from the Vatican) are fairly poor in quality, after splicing all the constituent parts together, the resulting image (which doesn't appear to be online in any cohesive form) looks ok at a slightly reduced size. [see polybiblio] Incidentally, Schall was the model for one of the memorable images seen in Kircher's 'China Monumentis' - 2nd last picture.

Jewish Childrens Book Covers

Jewish Childrens Book Covers

The Rogue Scholar reports that the Centre for Jewish History has/is digitised/ing forty Yiddish and Hebrew childrens books - these are complete books, not just the covers seen above. (They are also available from ICDL - International Childrens Digital Library)

Mundus Universus - Jesuits - 1683 - Poland

The Polish Digital Library consistently uploads so much material that I only ever get to randomly scan perhaps ten percent of it. This print caught my eye, although I really don't know too much about it. Titled 'Mundus Universus', it was produced by Aleksander Tarasowicz in 1683. It obviously relates to the Jesuits (although cursory searching didn't identify anything of particular import in Poland about them in that year). The centre of the circle is hell surrounded by purgatory, outside of which is (I presume) the globe map of the world, followed by the atmosphere, the comet layer and then the cosmos. I guess the outer circle depicts doors into heaven. And the Jesuits are sitting comfortably out there in the clouds of course. There seems to be a mention of Psalms 14:8 in one of the outer rings, which doesn't appear to exist!? A quick search showed it ends at verse seven. --- Jos comments: "this refers to Psalm 148, which includes 'Aqua omnes quae super caelos sunt laudent nomen Domini', or, in English, 'Let all the waters that are above the heavens praise the name of the Lord' ". Well, thank heavens for that.

Hokusai Manga
"Hokusai Manga is a series of sketchbooks by the Japanese artist Hokusai published in 1814-1878 in fifteen volumes. This is volume 12 (1834) [..and..] belongs to a large collection of books that Swedish explorer AE Nordenskiold brought back from his visit to Japan in 1879. [..] The Nordenskiold collection is housed in the library of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities and belongs to the Royal Library in Stockholm."
The image above is spliced together from screencaps. I have a fairly ambivalent attitude towards most of the 'turn the pages' web sites: I often find them altogether too gimmicky. But I received an unsolicited message recently about a new product display site (Touch and Turn) and I think it's worth sharing. It's shockwave driven of course but less resources intensive than normal and the pages are actually centred in the middle of the screen (as opposed to being jammed up against one side) and the enlargements are simple without using annoying overlay screens. In any event, the quality of the illustration work in the book itself is beyond question.

Yoshitsune - spirits

Yoshitsune - devils

Yoshitsune legend monsters

These three (detail) images are from the late Edo period (probably about 1850-1860). They come from a book hosted by the Akita Prefectural Library. From the shabby online translation it appears that the book belongs to a whole body of work relating to the legend of the 12th century Samurai warrior, Minamoto Yoshitsune.

Ukiyoe sketches of women

Nearly a year ago, I posted an entry - Ukioye Masterpieces I - expecting that by announcing it as the first, I would find the motivation to come up with the second and so on. It didn't quite work out that way but I did venture back into the 5-volume set ('Masterpieces Selected from The Ukiyoye School', 1906-1909), hosted by Posner Library) a long time ago and the results of that fishing expedition have been uploaded into this Webshots album. They all seem to be of women. Whether they were in fact the dominant theme or whether I just gravitated towards them, I really don't recall. (I have my suspicions)

18th century boats
'Histoire et Description Generale du Japan', 1736 by Pierre-Francois Giffart is online among the Otis Cary Collection at Doshisha University Academic Repository (Vol. I & Vol. II - thumnbail pages). I put a selection in this Webshots album. The books cover everything from housing styles, costumes, maps, tools, culture &c.

Illustrations of Japan 1822 -
Also from the Carey Collection at Doisha University: 'Illustrations of Japan' from 1822 by M Titsingh. Similar to above: presents all sorts of cultural illustrations of Japanese life. (another Webshots album selection)

Turtle anatomy engraving - 1687

The first ever book devoted to turtles, unsurprisingly perhaps, dealt with their anatomy. The plates are more notable for their historical ephemera value rather than being of any great scientific (or artistic for that matter) significance. I think there about a dozen (huge) illustrations from memory. The 2-volume work, online at SICD Universities of Strasbourg is called 'Osservazioni Anatomiche Intorno alle Tartarughe Marittime' by Giovanni Caldesi, 1687. Caldesi was the physician to the last Grand Duke of Tuscany and a pupil of Francesco Redi.

parterre designs by Olivier de Serres

Known as the 'Father of Agronomy' (agronomy being the application of soil and plant science to crop production and land management), Olivier de Serres dominated the 17th century approach to agriculture in France with the publication of his - I nearly wrote 'ground-breaking' - enormous 'Théâtre d'Agriculture et Mesnage des Champs' in 1600. It featured a series of parterre* illustrations of various royal residences by Claude Mollet. I've uploaded all the plates from the volumes to this Webshots album. The books are online at the Rare Books Digital Library of Brazil (Vol I & Vol II).

Unicorn snakes and dragons

Although they are fairly small, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to gank a couple of images from the Thomas Bartholin 1678 'treatise' on unicorns: 'De Unicornu Observationes Novae' [ebay]

Other things...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Geomancy Almanac

Geomantie manuscript decoration

Geomantie manuscript volvelle

Geomantie - Cod. Pal. germ. 833 - 16th cent. g

"Almanac for the year 1552 after the birth of Christ our Savior, which is a leap year. The golden number is 14, the sun circle 21, the Roman tax number 10*, the first Sunday-[C] lasts until the 21st of Hornungs. The other Sunday-[B] lasts until the end of the year. Between Christmas and the Lord's "Night of Fasting" (Ash Wednesday eve), are 9 weeks 2 days. The calendar shows the other festivals, movable and immovable, and also the course of the moon and other necessary observations are interpreted with following characters or signs."
[This is a slight paraphrase of a translation kindly provided by John D of Yale U.]
(*The Romans assessed taxes in 15 year cycles)

Geomantie - Cod. Pal. germ. 833 - 16th cent. f

Geomantie - lunar calendar

Geomantie - moon phases

Geomantie - moon phase calendar

Geomantie - Cod. Pal. germ. 833 - 16th cent. h

Geomantie - Cod. Pal. germ. 833 - 16th cent. e

Geomantie - Cod. Pal. germ. 833 - 16th cent. b

Geomantie - Cod. Pal. germ. 833 - 16th cent. c

Geomantie - Cod. Pal. germ. 833 - 16th cent. d

Count Otto-Henry (Otto-Heinrich or more usually, Ottheinrich) (1502-1559) was a memeber of the Wittelsbach dynasty of Bavarian Germany. A small territory was created around Neuburg on the Rhine River not long after Ottheinrich's birth which became his principality within the (very) convoluted Palatinate region of the Holy Roman Empire.

Ottheinrich was a keen supporter of the arts and sciences and a convert to the Lutheran Reformation which he championed in his hereditary homelands. He was also an avid bibliophile, becoming the most important collector of books of the German Renaissance. His extravagant outlays on manuscripts and books (and castle building) in Neuburg left him bankrupt in the 1540s and he went into exile (still expanding his private library) for some ten years when his debts had to be paid by the people of his principality.

In 1556 his fortunes were reversed after a relative died and he became Prince Elector of the Palatinate. Now in Heidelberg, Ottheinrich set about renovating the university with the help of the humanist Phillip Melanchthon, and he also added an elaborate wing to his newly inherited Heidelberg Castle. As a consequence, his own library from the castle (which now included the exquisite manuscript output of the Lorsch Monastery) was relocated and combined with the university holdings and opened to the public - later becoming known as 'Bibliotheca Palatina' - in the Church of the Holy Spirit. By the end of 1556 the holdings consisted of "6,400 titles, including 4,800 prints, 500 parchment manuscripts and 600 paper manuscripts".

Ottheinrich wasn't content with just collecting books. He arranged for illuminators to complete unfinished manuscripts, others were copied and the majority were bound with some of the most elaborate bookbindings ever produced. It's hard to overestimate the importance of his contributions to the intellectual development of Europe - by the time of his death, the library was one of the most celebrated collections in Europe. [I'm thinking of adopting him as the official patron of BibliOdyssey: Ottheinrich has inadvertently contributed to a whole bunch of posts here]

Either because of his fervent belief in the Reformation or his unabated passion for book collecting or because of the sad realisation that he had not produced an heir (or more likely: a combination of all three), Ottheinrich left specific provisions in his will for the expansion and development of the library which had its peak by the end of the 16th century. Alas, the Thirty Years War intervened and the Catholic League took over Heidelberg in the 1620s. This led to the entire collection (apart from the books destroyed during the seige/sacking of the city) of over 3,500 manuscripts and some 13,000 printed works being appropriated by the victors in the name of the Vatican. They were transported to Munich by wagons and then taken across the Alps on mules for delivery to the Pope. Most works are still in Rome but some of the collection (about ninety items) was returned to Heidelberg in the early 19th century.

The above images come from a manuscript commissioned by Ottheinrich which was completed between 1552 and 1557 (calligraphy by Heinrich Rüdinger and illumination by Albrecht Glockendon [attributed]). It's title is 'Geomantie' (Geomancy) - Codex Palatinus 833 Germanicus. The title is misleading really. This is not a work of geomancy* as any reference material describes it, although there may have been a broader medieval definition which has since been superseded. *(see: i, ii)

'Geomantie' Cod. Pal. 833 Ger. is hosted by Heidelberg University: click 'Einband vorne' (front cover) and then the '-' sign at the top of the page for thumbnail views. [The elaborate binding with its clasps and embossing was used as the model for an extravagant (and very expensive) facsimile edition of the Ottheinrich Bible (I recently noted the sale of the original for squillions at Sothebys)].

The outstanding 'Geomantie' parchment manuscript of about one hundred pages is more a combination of astrological/astronomical treatise, religious almanac and prediction calendar. About one half of it is directly copied from a manuscript known as the 'Schicksalsbuch' (Book of Destiny) which was produced in the 1490s and is itself an assemblage of various astrological works. The images below of moveable disks (volvelle) are from the 'Schicksalsbuch', which is much longer than the 'Geomantie' manuscript.

I think the illustration/illumination work is generally of a superior quality in the 'Geomantie' -vs- the 'Schicksalsbuch' despite it being less 'polished' overall. This view may stem from the difference in digitisation qualities between the manuscripts; but having the ability to compare two such similar works from ~five hundred years ago is a fairly unique opportunity nevertheless. (I wasn't aware of the earlier manuscript until well after I'd jagged all the above images and only after some needed translation help arrived)

The spectacular full page images up at the top (there are only two) and those below are all volvelles (rotating paper wheel charts) and were used for various computations such as calculating the time and the lunar phases. The zodiac images on the wheels could be aligned with the night sky and the disk turned to reveal desired incremental measurements. Some were able to function as astrolabes, to give approximate positions of ships at sea.

For those who read German, there is quite a lot of information related to 'Geomantie' and Ottheinrich online. For the rest of us there are bits and pieces. I am greatly indebted to the translation assistance and thoughts provided by John D of Yale University and Kristine. Thank you! No doubt I've not really done their input justice.

Schicksalsbuch volvelle

Schicksalsbuch - astrolabe

Monday, February 04, 2008

Rulers of Hungary
















'Mausoleum Potentissimorum ac Gloriosissimorum Regni Apostolici Regum et Primorum Militantis Ungariae Ducum' (Mausoleum of the Most Powerful Kings and Dukes of Hungary) by Ferenc Nádasdy, 1664.

The book appears to cover the rulers of Hungary from the tenth century up until the time of publication. See: List of Hungarian rulers at Wikipedia. The final image depicts Saint Stephen, the first King of Hungary (1000 AD) whose right hand survives as a religious relic.

The images above come from Wolfenbüttel Digital Library but there is another version of the book (easier to run through all the names) at the University of Mannheim.

Just by the by, the author happens to be the son of the infamous mass murderer, Elizabeth Báthory.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Ornamental Typography

Mauro Poggi 1750 ornamental letter

Mauro Poggi 1750 ornamental letter

Mauro Poggi 1750 ornamental letter

Mauro Poggi 1750 Figural letter

Mauro Poggi - Alfabeto di Lettere Iniziale - titlepage

'Alfabeto di Lettere Iniziali' (c. 1730) from designs by Mauro Poggi.

[The edition above, from the Austrian Musuem of Contemporary Art (link below),
dates from c.1750, and the cover page - sans watermark - comes from here]
"[T]his lovely engraved oblong folio [is] one of the most delightful 18th century alphabets in the high rococo style. Reflecting the style of the early 18th century engraver, Giambattista Betti, the design of each splendid plate features an elegant cursive capital form of one of the two dozen letters of the 18th century alphabet (there were 24 letters, rather than 26, because i and j were the same letter, and because there was no w).

The capitals are elaborated with scrolls and flourishes and then inhabited by satyrs, mermaids, Medusa heads, birds, cats, dogs, snakes, and other creatures. The letters were designed by Poggi, drawn in ink by Andrea Bimbi, and engraved by Lorenzo Lorenzi. Bonacini characterizes it as a precious collection showing a surprising richness of imagination. Given the work’s obvious esthetic achievement and inclusion in the major bibliographies of writing books, one would expect that Poggi would have produced additional works, but this item is the only one he is known to have done."

Johann Merken, Liber Artificiosus Alphabeti Maioris 1782 c

Johann Merken, Liber Artificiosus Alphabeti Maioris 1782 d

Johann Merken, Liber Artificiosus Alphabeti Maioris 1782 b

Johann Merken, Liber Artificiosus Alphabeti Maioris 1782 a

Johann Merken, Liber Artificiosus Alphabeti Maioris 1782

Johann Merken, Liber Artificiosus Alphabeti Maioris 1782 e

'Liber Artificiosus Alphabeti Maioris' (1782-1785)
designs by Johann Merken, engraved by Heinrich Coentgen

The first and only edition (published in two parts) of this rarely complete calligraphy book included fifty six engraved plates. Besides the elaborate alphabets there are example writing styles, portraits, silhouettes (Lavater purloined one of the plates - not shown - for his 'Physiognomy'), monograms, calendars, fantasy geometrical and architectural figures, emblems, genealogical tables and ornamental letters. I understand (from wonky translations) that the letterpress text included recipes for making different inks.

[Addit - Dec 2013 - the whole Merken/Coentgen book is now online in U Heidelberg ('vorschau' for thumbs)]

Johann Losenawer 1739 f

Johann Losenawer 1739 e

Johann Losenawer 1739 c

Johann Losenawer 1739 b

Johann Losenawer 1739 a

Johann Losenawer 1739

The only information I can find about the above plates is that they come from a book entitled 'Vorschrift Deutsch-Lateinisch und Franczösischer Schriften Geschrieben' by Johann Jacob Losenawer (Losenawern or Losenauer), published in Stuttgart in 1719 (the above calligraphic flourishes are from a 1739 edition).

Hans Sebald Beham 1554 (Putte mit Spruchband mit Alphabet)

Alphabetic ribbon vignette with putto by the prolific
German printmaker/artist, Hans Sebald Beham, 1564.

Francesco Giovanni Cresci - Il Perfetto Scrittore - 1570 b

Francesco Giovanni Cresci - Il Perfetto Scrittore - 1570 a

Francesco Giovanni Cresci - Il Perfetto Scrittore - 1570

The Vatican scriptor, Gianfrancesco Cresci of Milan, heralded the onset of the Baroque by categorically rejecting what he considered were the useless adornments to some of the alphabets produced in the 1540s by the Master calligrapher, Giambattista Palatino*. Palatino responded by adopting letterforms similar to Cresci's (whose first work was published in 1560) only to be accused by Cresci of lacking the necessary skills to produce the set himself, instead hiring an engraver for the work. It was quite the calligraphy/typography scandal of the 16th century. [I believe the modern scholarly consensus, from manuscript comparisons, vindicates Palatino]

The above images are from one of the classic books on letterforms: Cresci's 'Il Perfetto Scrittore', published in 1570. One of the alphabets was the inspiration for the typeface, 'Cresci', designed in 1996.

In passing, I came across the following..

Bertozzi Antonello 1604

Ornamental calligraphy from a suite of prints by Antonello Bertozzi, 1604. I didn't discover any information about the artist, but he did produce a fabulous book on lace patterns, displaying similar styles to the embellishments above, available at - I may have to revisit that one in the future.

Unless otherwise noted, all the above images come from the fantastic Ornamental Prints Online site - a collaborative database between The Museum of Decorative Arts in Berlin, The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague and The Austrian Museum of Contemporary Arts (MAK).

Although there is extensive information in english (top right), the above images (all extensively background cleaned) were generated by searching on 'alphabet' from the search box (top left) at the German interface (>200 results across the institutions). For some reason the same search using the English interface only gives results from one of the museums. In fact, all of the above images are from MAK. The Prague images were prohibitively watermarked in the larger versions and the Berlin images are either digitally watermarked, degrading their quality in the larger jpegs, or are just poor quality files. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful resource site in which to browse.

Thanks very much to Tia for writing to tell of her recent visit to the exhibition in Vienna: 'From Grotesquerie to the Grotesque', which led to the database.

Some of my favourite entries at the now retired Giornale Nuovo were on unusual alphabets/letterforms. See: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven (did I miss any?)

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