Book of Wonders

Book of Wonders

Cognac (France) — 1480–1485

Simultaneously moral and didactic, painted by Robinet Testard: A precious gift for the late French king François I from his father

  1. Charles d’ Angouleme, the father of the eventual French King François I (1494–1547), commissioned this work

  2. It was created by Robinet Testard (active 1470–1531), one of the greatest artists of the golden age of French illumination

  3. The text is simultaneously entertaining and morally didactic and is adorned with gorgeous illustrations

Book of Wonders

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Book of Wonders

Elaborately illuminated travelogues pay witness to the fascination medieval Europeans had for distant and exotic lands. The Book of Wonders, originating ca. 1400 from an anonymous author, was later copied into a manuscript that was illuminated between 1480 and 1485 by the famous master miniaturist Robinet Testard. It was a commission of a high-ranking member of the French royal family: Charles d'Orléans, Count of Angoulême whose son François of Angoulême would rise to become King Francis I. Testard, who also created a book of hours for the Count, presents the wonders of the world with some of the finest artwork from the golden age of French illumination.

Book of Wonders

Robinet Testard, one of the most gifted miniaturists of his time, made a masterpiece of book art for Charles d’ Angouleme, the father of the eventual French King Francois I. The Book of Wonders is an anonymous document, which was compiled ca. 1400 and described the lands and provinces of the Old World. In the years 1480–85, Testard illustrated this grandiose description of sometimes fantastical and mysterious parts of the Earth in his own way in wonderfully fine painting with curious pictorial inventions. The simultaneously entertaining and morally didactic text, in combination with the gorgeous illustrations, is a true gem of 15th century book art.

A Master of his Trade

Robinet Testard counts among the greatest masters of 15th century French illumination. His mastery is evidenced by numerous books of hours and other masterpieces of book art. The French miniaturist was employed by the highest ranking commissioners, Charles d’ Angouleme, the father of the eventual French King Francois I, among them. Testard completed a private book of hours for the Count of Angouleme, among others, with grandiose and curious pictorial inventions. Additionally, the artist was employed by the wife of the count, Louise de Savoy. Robinet Testard has gone down in art history with his works as an exceptional master.

Amazonia, the Land of the Pygmies, Ulu-Land

The Book of Wonders, Les Secrets de l`Histoire Naturelle, consists of two parts. In the first part, the lands and provinces of the Old World are presented and described in alphabetical order, from Africa to Ulu-Land. The second part collects anecdotes and information by Pliny and Solinus concerning additional wonders of the world. Each of the 56 chapters about the various lands and regions of the Earth are accompanied by a wonderful miniature. Thus one finds here, for example, a description of Africa, with the representation of a wonderful world of animals with elephants, dragons, and lions. Snakes, unicorns, dragons, and headless men apparently live in Ethiopia. The mysterious Amazonia is only populated by women, a fire burns on the Aeolian Islands of the Mediterranean. The work thus collects various “countries” such as Great Britain, India, or Judea.

Wondrous Fantasies and Grandiose Realism

In doing so, the author of the compendium relied on the Holy Scriptures and authors like Pliny or Ovid. The division of the world into three regions – Asia, Africa, and Europe – he adopted from Isidor and Orosius. This exciting geographic compilation was composed in France between 1371 and 1428 and offers a wonderful model for grandiose illustrations. The moral-didactic background of the text was neglected in the illustrations in favor of great entertainment value. Robinet Testard found the opportunity here to give his imagination and artistic ability free range, and in doing so found a particularly impressive style. The Book of Wonders, with its artful illustrations, still offers the unique chance to explore the foreign and often curious worlds of the medieval imagination, and simultaneously get to know one of the greatest 15th century miniaturists in an impressive way.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Book of the World Wonders
The Secrets of Natural History
Das Buch der Wunder der Natur
Das Buch der Wunder
Libro de las Maravillas del Mundo
Secret de l'histoire naturelle
Les merveilles du monde ou Les secrets de l'histoire naturelle
Livre des merveilles du monde
Size / Format
200 pages / 30.6 × 20.8 cm
Origin
France
Date
1480–1485
Style
Language
Illustrations
56 miniatures
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Book of Wonders – Français 22971 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris, France)
Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2011
Limited Edition: 898 copies
Detail Picture

Book of Wonders

India

Even before the legendary sea voyage of Vasco de Gama, India was known to Europeans as an exotic land that was abundant with riches, including many spices that were coveted by them. This colorful landscape shows pink, European-style castles in the background and trees filled with fruit. A spotted unicorn can be seen in addition to real animals from India, like elephants. The elephant in the foreground is carrying a large sack and is driven along by a bearded man in gold boots and a cloak.

Libro de las Maravillas del Mundo
Single Page

Book of Wonders

Egypt

The word “Egypt” – beginning with the beautiful “E” initial of blue, red, and gold – can be read at the beginning of the passage below. This wonderful landscape portrays the animals of the ancient land. A river, presumably the Nile, is painted blue in the foreground with ripples, but then transitions to a shining silver as it winds its way toward the sea, where a ship awaits.

Some of the animals are real: an accurate male lion and a leopard are next to the left margin, and various birds can be seen along the river bank ranging from pheasants to peafowl. Most of these creatures are mythical: Egyptian crocodiles are now dragons both with and without wings while a white unicorn takes a drink from the river as other horned oddities stroll the riverbank.

Libro de las Maravillas del Mundo
Facsimile Editions

#1 Libro de las Maravillas del Mundo

Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2011
Book of Wonders – Français 22971 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris, France)
Book of Wonders – Français 22971 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris, France) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2011
Limited Edition: 898 copies
Binding: Light brown leather
Commentary: 1 volume by John Friedman
Languages: Spanish or German
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.
Regular price without login (like new)3,680 
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