A fabulously illuminated tome for the coronation of Duke Vratislaus II as the first King of Bohemia in 1085: the Vyšehrad Codex

Codex of Vyšehrad

Bohemia (Czech Republic) — 1085

Codex of Vyšehrad

Codex of Vyšehrad

Bohemia (Czech Republic) — 1085

  1. A group of artists from the Regensburg region of Bavaria was imported to mark the occasion

  2. 60+ miniatures as well as elaborate initials and gorgeous frames adorn the Biblical texts

  3. It is a splendid witness to the power struggles of the 12th century between Pope and Emperor

Codex of Vyšehrad

Alternative Titles:
  • Vyšehrad Codex
  • Codex Vyssegradensis
  • Coronation Gospels of King Vratislaus
  • Lectionary Ms. Codex Vyšehradensis
  • Coronation Codex
Codex Vyssegradensis
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

In the year 1085, Vratislaus II was crowned the first King of Bohemia, an event marked by the creation of this incredible Romanesque manuscript. The Vyšehrad Codex is the grandest of four manuscripts created by a group of artists, presumably trained in Regensburg, who were brought to Prague to commemorate the founding of a new kingdom, which was a tool of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV in his ongoing power struggle with the papacy. More than 60 miniatures adorn the Biblical texts in addition to elaborate initials and gorgeous frames that make this a true masterpiece of Romanesque art.

Codex of Vyšehrad

The Vyšehrad Codex, also known as the Codex Vyssegradensis in Latin, is one of the most important and most valuable manuscript kept in the modern Czech Republic. It is the Coronation Gospels of King Vratislaus, a magnificent tome made for the coronation of Vratislaus II (ca. 1032-92) as the first king of Bohemia in 1085. It is the largest and most splendidly illuminated manuscript from a group of four that was created by a team of artists in Prague between 1080 and 1085. Judging by the artistic style, this group likely originated from Regensburg and were brought to Prague for the creation of these splendid codices.

A Romanesque Masterpiece

The exceptional Romanesque illumination makes it one of the finest illuminated manuscripts from the second half of the 11th century and shows influences from Ottonian art, the Regensburg school in particular, and it is believed that the artists were foreigners who were invited to collaborate on a royal masterpiece. More than 60 miniatures adorn the Biblical texts in addition to elaborate initials and gorgeous frames. The four-page genealogy of Christ is both extremely artful and unusual in its depiction of the Tree of Jesse: instead of Christ’s ancestors, seven doves with halos perch in the branches, a motif from Byzantine art. Gold leaf has been used generously throughout the manuscript and contrasts wonderfully with the unusual, almost pastel color palette with unusual shades. Finally, the gorgeous text is written in an innovative mix of Roman capitals and uncial script.

Bavarian Illumination for a Bohemian King

The Vyšehrad Codex’s extremely rich iconography and its visual components rank it among the most precious illuminated manuscripts of the second half of the 11th century in Europe. It was probably made at the behest of Bohemian diplomats to honor an anniversary of the coronation of Duke Vratislaus II as the first King of Bohemia, which took place in 1085. The codex probably originated from the circle of the scriptorium at the Monastery of St. Emmeram in Regensburg, one of the most prolific sources for illuminated manuscripts during the period, which would have been very influential due to its proximity to Prague. Finally, it is notable for containing the earliest known representation of the Tree of Jesse, which may have been an assertion of the rightful kingship of the royal patron.

Created by an Anonymous Master

Although it is the work of several artists, the Vyšehrad Codex was a project that was apparently overseen by an artist known as the Master of the Codex Vyšehradensis. The artwork is characterized by thick outlines filled in with pigments of red, pink, green, blue, purple, and brown presented before backgrounds with gold leaf. The majuscule script is presented with spacing between words, which was unusual at the time, and the first letter of each sentence is enlarged and embellished with gold leaf and a red outline.

Part of a Political Struggle

The creation of the Kingdom of Bohemia could not have occurred without the help of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV (1050-1106), who was engaged in a power struggle with the Papacy over the right to appoint bishops that culminated in the Investiture Crisis. As part of his campaign to limit papal power in his realms, the Emperor insisted on the retention of the Slavonic liturgy in Bohemia rather than adopting the Roman rite in order to gains the support of Vratislaus.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Vyšehrad Codex
Codex Vyssegradensis
Coronation Gospels of King Vratislaus
Lectionary Ms. Codex Vyšehradensis
Coronation Codex
Size / Format
108 folios / 41.5 × 34.0 cm
Date
1085
Style
Language
Script
Roman Square Capitals Roman Uncial
Illustrations
64 full-page miniatures of the Evangelists and the Gospels, the genealogy of Christ and with scenes from the Old Testament and the life of Christ; numerous large decorative initials of vegetative ornaments.
Content
Lectionary, including lection for the coronation of a king
Artist / School
Previous Owners

2 available facsimile edition(s) of „Codex of Vyšehrad“

Codex Vyssegradensis
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Codex Vyssegradensis

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Tempus Libri – Prague, 2014
Limited Edition
199 copies
Binding
Book cover coated with floral embroidered fabric; back cover and spine in white leather showing the enthroned Christ in a mandorla on the back.
Commentary
1 volume by Michal Dragoun and Tomáš Žilinčár
Language: Czech
More Information
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.
Codex Vysehradensis
Imageof

Codex Vysehradensis

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Commentary
1 volume by František Kavka, Jiří Mašín, Jaroslav Pešina, and Josef Krása
Languages: Czech, English, French, German, Russian
More Information
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.
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