Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria

Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria Facsimile Edition

Flanders — Ca. 1470

Musical notations in gold and silver for the wife of Emperor Maximilian: one of only seven surviving manuscripts from the Middle Ages executed entirely on black parchment

  1. This "black manuscript" is an especially rare and beautiful example of a late medieval dancing book

  2. It once belonged to Mary of Burgundy, the wife of Emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519), after whom it is named

  3. The musical notation is written entirely in gold and silver ink to further highlight its unusual aesthetic

Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria

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

As restrictions on music and dancing were relaxed by the Catholic Church in the course of the Middle Ages, dancing became more common and the dances more complex. Dancing became an essential part of court life, knowing the right dances was an indicator that one came from the right strata of society, that one belonged. Therefore, instructive books became popular as learning aids and reference works, especially for young nobles learning to be ladies and gentlemen. The Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria is an especially rare and beautiful example thereof from the 15th century. This is because it is one of the few so-called "black manuscripts" to survive to the present and is decorated with gold and silver to further highlight its unusual aesthetic.

Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria

The Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria was conceived ca. 1470 as an aid for dancers doing the “Basses Danses” so popular in Europe. It is among the few illuminated manuscripts to be made using vellum that has been dyed black, thus making possible a wholly unusual color palette.

Music in Silver and Gold

After an impressive page showing several coats of arms, the Dancing Book commences with a brief theoretical section complete with 59 different dances. Each page bears a golden lineation on which the titles of the dances, together with texts, musical notes and step designations, are written in both gold and silver. Almost all the pages of the manuscript are ornamented with initials. Their vigorous interlace leads us to the assumption that the manuscript constitutes a masterpiece of courtly art. It is rightly assumed that this book once belonged to Mary of Burgundy, the wife of Emperor Maximilian I who left it to her daughter Margaret, the future governor general of the Low Countries. The book later passed into the hands of King Philip II of Spain and remained in the Burgundian library of the Habsburg dynasty until it was transferred to the Bibliothèque Royale.

An Extremely Rare Manuscript on Black Vellum

The “Basses Danses” owes its singularity not only to its musical contents and significance for the history of European culture, but also to its masterly execution of calligraphy in gold and silver and last but not least to its unusual writing material. The Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria is one of only seven surviving manuscripts written on black-dyed parchment. This jewel unique in the history of book production impressively displays the luxury of the Burgundian court.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Les basses danses de Marguerite d'Autriche
Tanzbüchlein der Margarete von Österreich
Size / Format
56 pages / 12.8 × 21.0 cm
Origin
Belgium
Date
Ca. 1470
Genre
Language
Illustrations
Notes in silver, texts in gold and ornaments
Previous Owners
Margaret of Austria (1480–1530)
Mary of Hungary (1505–58)
King Philip II of Spain (1527–98)
House of Hapsburg

Available facsimile editions:
Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria – Ms. 9085 – Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique (Bruxelles, Belgium) Facsimile Edition
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1987
Limited Edition: 500 copies
Detail Picture

Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria

Arms of Mary of Hungary

The coat of arms found at the beginning of the manuscript was not added until decades after it was created and belongs to Queen Mary of Hungary (1505–58), who later became governor of the Habsburg Netherlands. Her husband King Louis II of Hungary is represented on the left side while the noble inheritance of her parents is seen on the right including the distinctive castles of Castile, the fleur-de-lys and azure/gold bands of Burgundy, the red crowned lion of Limburg, and the gold lion of Brabant.

Tanzbüchlein der Margarete von Österreich
Single Page

Dancing Book of Margaret of Austria

La Danse de Cleves

Introduced by a gorgeous large golden “L” initial, La Danse de Cleves is an irregular “basse danse” of the type that was extremely popular among the European nobility during the 15th and 16th centuries. Unlike most of the other dances in the manuscript, it is not strictly processional and is accompanied by a complex rhythm.

The black page, created by soaking the parchment in an iron-copper solution, creates the perfect background for the gold and silver ink, the latter of which appears almost white. This is one of only three “black” manuscripts to survive intact as a codex because the same process that gives the parchment its rich black color also corroded it. Today, the manuscript is extremely fragile, which necessitated the creation of a facsimile.

Tanzbüchlein der Margarete von Österreich
Facsimile Editions

#1 Tanzbüchlein der Margarete von Österreich

Limited Edition: 500 copies
Binding: Half leather binding with wooden covers. All leaves are trimmed to the original edges. Facsimile and commentary volume in book case.
Commentary: 1 volume (76 pages) by Claude Thiry, Victor Gavenda, and Claudine Lemaire
Language: 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. All folios are cut according to the original.
Regular price without login (like new)1,280 
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