The rich and diverse collection of manuscripts owned by the Sächsische Landesbibliothek (Saxon State Library), was acquired over the course of 400 years. Founded by the Saxon Elector August in 1556, the Library initially contained very few Medieval manuscripts, since the holdings of monasteries dissolved during the Reformation went to the University of Leipzig. With the acquisition of other libraries at the end of the sixteenth century, and especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, more Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts were added to the collection. They were further enhanced by unique, even spectacular, purchases (such as the Mayan manuscript in 1739), and by other Dresden collections and gifts. A number of oriental manuscripts were part of the "Turkish booty" acquired during the wars against the Ottoman Empire at the end of the seventeenth century.
The collection expanded to include all areas of knowledge: fourteenth-century copies of Ovid and Petrarch; Medieval histories of Meissen and Bohemia; Biblical, legal, and medical manuscripts; and a fourteenth-century genealogy of the Frankish kings.
With the destruction of some of these priceless possessions during the bombings of 1945, the Library now has approximately 400 Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. This exhibit displays a small sampling, from the tenth-century Evangelia and the superb Hebraic Machsor, to a fine manuscript of Boccaccio, and a fifteenth-century history of the ancient world.
Latin Gospel passages used in Catholic Mass
This collection of Gospel passages for use in Catholic mass is one of the oldest, most priceless manuscripts in the library. The tenth-century manuscript, of German origin, has colorful initials, sometimes in the form of stylized animal figures, connecting it with very early Germanic art. The manuscript is open to the text of St. Matthew's Gospel describing the passion of Jesus Christ.
Evangelia dominicalia et festivalia (Lord's Day and Feast Day Gospels) Tenth century, leaves 59b, 60a Vellum (1)
Moses receives the Ten Commandments
Machsorim ("cycles") are special prayer books for the Hebrew Sabbath and other Holy Days. This book, a testimony to German Jewry of the Middle Ages, contains prayers for the Feast of Weeks, Passover, the Feast of delivery of the Jews from a Persian plot, poetry by Rabbi Meir von Rothenburg (1215-1293) and the Hebrew poet Juda Halevi (1075-1141). Both parts -- part two is in Wroclaw, Poland -- were written by Reuben, a pupil of Rabbi Meir, probably in Esslingen ca. 1290. The beautiful miniatures by an anonymous gentile illuminator are in the Gothic style.
Reuben Machsor mechol haschana (Jewish Holy Day Prayer Book for the Whole Year) Germany, ca. 1290, leaves 59b, 50a Vellum (2)
A fifteenth-century interpretation of the history of the ancient world
At the beginning of the fifteenth century, Henri Romain, a learned Parisian jurist, composed a history of the ancient world, borrowing freely from St. Augustine's The City of God. This manuscript of Romain's work is particularly remarkable for its first leaf. Framed by stylized plants, the building of Rome is depicted. Included are the arms of the French noble family Montmorency, that commissioned the work.
Henri Romain Gestes et faits des anciens (Acts and Deeds of the Ancients) France, Early fifteenth century, leaves 3b, 4a Vellum (5)
Francesco Petrarca and a disciple at home
The renowned Italian poet Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) wrote Of Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul in 1365. Cast in the form of dialogues between Reason and Agony, Petrarca's work offers advice on thinking clearly in times of happiness and sorrow. This manuscript translation by Jean Daudin is dedicated to King Charles VII and is an outstanding example of Flemish fifteenth-century workmanship, with its delicate gold initials and arabesques and two miniatures by Jacques de Besançon.
Francesco Petrarca Des remedes de l'une et l'autre fortune (Of Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul) France, ca. 1450, leaves 14b, 15a Vellum (6)
Boccaccio and his audience
Though Boccaccio (1313-1375) is best known today for his Decameron, up to the 1550s he was famous for his Of the Fate of Illustrious Men and Women. Using Biblical, classical, and mythological examples, he shows how a change in fortune can destroy even the powerful. Written around 1360, the work was soon translated into all major European languages. The dedicatory inscription indicates that Charles de Bourbon gave the volumes to King Francis I of France. Two hundred years later, they were presented to the Saxon Elector Augustus the Strong by Prince Karol Stanislaw Radziwill.
Giovanni Boccaccio Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes (Of the Fate of Illustrious Men and Women) France, ca. 1520. Vol. 2, leaves 1b, 2a Vellum (8)
Choir and musical cherubs
From 1451 to 1522, Franchinus Gaffurius, conductor of the Milan Cathedral, was considered the authority on musical theory. His textbook, Practica Musicae, was published in six editions during his lifetime. He greatly influenced music theory by relating theory and practice and by enhancing the application of intervals and musical notation.
The second and fourth editions (Brescia, 1497 and 1508) are rarer than the first edition, a fine copy of which was purchased in 1841 by the Königliche Bibliothek, and which is displayed open to the first book.
Franchinus Gaffurius (Gafori) Practica musicae (The Performance of Music) Milan, 1496, pp. a, 1a Vellum (12)
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