Book of Testaments

Book of Testaments – M. Moleiro Editor – Catedral Metropolitana (Oviedo, Spain)

Spain β€” 1109–1112

More than "just" the historical and legal records of Oviedo Cathedral: a lavishly illuminated chronicle of the political and religious climate of the newly emerging Christian kingdoms of Spain

  1. Treats historical, social, and historical topics of the emerging Spanish kingdom

  2. The illuminator's name remains unknown to this day

  3. The composition and techniques of the artistic furnishings reveal stylistic influences from Insular and continental sources

Book of Testaments

Facsimile Copy Available!
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(3,000€ - 7,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Book of Testaments

The Book of Testaments is compilation of legal and historical documents relating to the Cathedral of Oviedo that originated between 1109 and 1118. It was commissioned by Bishop Pelagius in the municipality of Oviedo, Spain and contains historically valuable information about medieval life in Spain. 17 full- and half-page miniatures including depictions of various kings modelled on Evangelist portraits as well as vignettes and historiated initials make the manuscript especially artistically appealing. They were created using expensive pigments as well as gold and silver – no expense was spared – and represent a stylistic fusion of Carolingian, Insular, and Iberian influences. As such, the Book of Testaments is simultaneously a precious historical resource as well as a splendid work of art.

Book of Testaments

In the Middle Ages, France and Belgium were considered to be true strongholds of European painting and book art. Nevertheless in Spain in the early 12th century, there arose a few breath-taking codices that were in no way inferior to French and Belgian works of art. One of these masterpieces is the Book of Testaments, which has earned the gifted anonymous artist responsible for it the name of convenience Master of the Book of Testaments among art historians. This magnificent manuscript has remained in the archives of the Cathedral of Oviedo in Asturias for more than 900 years, greatly simplifying the manuscript’s history of ownership. Aside from records concerning Oviedo specifically, the cartulary is also a precious record that presents information about life in medieval Spain in the most detailed manner.

At the Behest of the Bishop

The illuminated manuscript was commissioned in the early-12th century by Bishop Pelagius of Oviedo (d. 1153), also known as Pelayo. It cannot be said for certain today who was responsible for the design of the codex but there is evidence of two copyists at work, one of which must have been one of the cathedral canons who was also, confusingly, named Pelagius: Pelagius Rosello, Pelagius Viello, or Pelagius Enniguiz. In terms of codicology and artistry, it seems likely that the work was undertaken as Oviedo Cathedral itself, the library holdings of which would have provided numerous templates for its creation.

The Important of Oviedo

The Book of Testaments contains information from documents spanning the years 808 to 1118, which are concerned with the diocese of Oviedo, which had previously enjoyed power and influence as the spiritual capital of Spain and political capital of the Kingdom of Asturias. These documents were written in a variety of Insular and continental scripts. In the codex, the donations of the congregation, tax exemptions, privileges of the church, and additional legal documents were recorded. The register of wealthy inhabitants of Oviedo who made the construction of the splendid cathedral possible through their generous donations is also very interesting. However, many of the royal charters from the kings of Asturias and LeΓ³n were forgeries created by Bishop Pelagius, earning him the nickname el Fabulador or "the Fabulist", as part of an effort to assert the independence of Oviedo from the archbishops of Toledo and Santiago. This does not appear to have been done for his own benefit but to restore the privileged status of the diocese of Oviedo.

Innovative Illustrations

This manuscript contains 17 high quality miniatures including 8 full-pages and 9 half-pages and is embellished with numerous historiated initials and dΓ©cor in the margins. Alongside its historically significant content, the codex impresses through its miniatures, true masterpieces of Spanish Romanesque illumination. They display a characteristic painting style as is seen in no other manuscript from Europe. Modelled on Evangelist portraits, full-page miniatures depict King Alfonso II of Asturias (ca. 760 – 842), a certain Archbishop Adolfo, King OrdoΓ±o I of Asturias (ca. 821–866), King OrdoΓ±o II of Galicia and LeΓ³n (ca. 873–924), and Alfonso V of LeΓ³n (ca. 994–1028) but the portraits of King Ferdinand I of LeΓ³n (c. 1015–65) and King Alfonso VI of LeΓ³n and Castile (1040/41–1109) are missing. The Book of Testaments already caused a stir at its creation – its influence can be seen in Tumbo A of Santiago de Compostela and the Libro de las Estampas of LeΓ³n – and has lost none of its artistic appeal today.


Alternative Titles
Libro de los Testamentos
Liber testamentorum ecclesiae ovetensis
Buch der Testamente
Libro dei Testamenti
Livre des Testaments
Livro dos Testamentos
Libro Notarial de Don Pelayo, Obispo de Oviedo
Size / Format
226 pages / 36.4 Γ— 24.0 cm
Carolingian minuscule Protogothic
17 miniatures plus illuminated initials and marginal decorations
The Cathedral of Oviedo's most important documents
Don Pelayo, Bishop of Oviedo
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Book of Testaments – M. Moleiro Editor – Catedral Metropolitana (Oviedo, Spain)
M. Moleiro Editor – Barcelona, 1995
Limited Edition: 987 copies
Detail Picture

Book of Testaments

OrdoΓ±o I

Labelled in purple and gold as ORDONI REX, King OrdoΓ±o I of Asturias (ca. 821–866) is depicted crowned, enthroned, and accompanied by a squire carrying his arms. The archbishops Serenus and Ovecus stand to the right with gold and silver halos and are labelled in red; the former holds a document with his royally granted privileges. What makes this image truly remarkable is the highly expressive human figure that has been incorporated into the central column supporting the two arches.

Book of Testaments – M. Moleiro Editor – Catedral Metropolitana (Oviedo, Spain)
Single Page

Book of Testaments

Alfonso II

King Alfonso II of Asturias (ca. 760 – 842) is depicted kneeling in the lower register with his hands raised in a pious gesture. Accompanied by a squire carrying his arms, he is crowned and elaborately dressed in silver and gold. The Virgin Mary appears on the left with a golden halo and the Archangel Michael is depicted with a silver halo slaying the dragon on the right.

Christ, surrounded by angels, is enthroned in a mandorla and gives the sign of benediction in the upper register. The Twelve Apostles appear in arched frames with St. Peter holding his key on the right alongside St. John. It is a similar image to the front panel of the Arca Santa, a silver-gilt oak reliquary in Oviedo Cathedral, for which Alfonso β€œthe Chaste” had a chapel constructed.

Book of Testaments – M. Moleiro Editor – Catedral Metropolitana (Oviedo, Spain)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Libro de los Testamentos

M. Moleiro Editor – Barcelona, 1995

Publisher: M. Moleiro Editor – Barcelona, 1995
Limited Edition: 987 copies
Binding: Embossed brown leather in leather slipcase
Commentary: 1 volume (828 pages) by JoaquΓ­n Yarza Luaces, Josefa Sanz Fuentes, Elena E. RodrΓ­guez DΓ­az, Gabino DΓ­az MerchΓ‘n, and Emiliano FernΓ‘ndez Vallina
Language: Spanish
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€
(3,000€ - 7,000€)
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