Medieval Housebook of Wolfegg Castle

Medieval Housebook of Wolfegg Castle – Prestel Verlag – Private Collection

Probably Middle Rhine region (Germany) β€” Ca. 1470–1480

Reference instructions for all situations: 47 lively, high-quality miniatures, vignettes, and marginalia give insights into everyday life in the Late Middle Ages

  1. The encyclopedic text was designed as a reference work for an aristocratic household

  2. Its six sections include recipes ranging from cooking to pharmacology to dying fabrics

  3. Technical topics range from mining and metallurgy to military weapons, equipment, and strategies

Medieval Housebook of Wolfegg Castle

Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Medieval Housebook of Wolfegg Castle

Created sometime between 1470 and 1480 by a team of authors, the so-called Housebook of Wolfegg Castle is a compendium designed for use in an aristocratic household, which is noteworthy for the lively, high-quality imagery that fills the pages. These 47 miniatures, vignettes, and marginalia are particularly useful for their insights into everyday life in the Late Middle Ages. Most of them consists of colored pen drawings, while others are uncolored but masterfully shaded. The text of the manuscript is divided into 6 sections: memorization techniques; astrological descriptions of the planets; illustrations of a bathhouse, a castle with moat, a tournament including the joust, hunting scenes, and an "obscene love garden"; recipes ranging from cooking to pharmacology to dying fabrics; mining, metallurgy, and assessing gold coins; weapons, siege equipment, and other military technology.

Medieval Housebook of Wolfegg Castle

The Medieval House Book of Wolfegg Castle contains practical knowledge useful for a nobleman and head of a family. It was completed ca. 1480 by a team of artists and scribes, probably in the Middle Rhine region. This splendid manuscript is as famous for the refinement of its miniatures as it is for the quality of the information it holds. They present a vivid depiction of everyday life in late medieval Germany, but the artist primarily responsible for them is known simply as the Master of the House Book. The artfully adorned manuscript is filled with practical knowledge for the running of an aristocratic household from accounting to defending one’s castle.

What is a Housebook?

Housebooks are collective manuscripts of occupational or professional content written by scholars since the late-15th century. Initially commissioned by the aristocratic upper class, in the 16th century they were also acquired by wealthy and educated members of the emerging middle class. These works collect three different types of texts: the so-called HausvΓ€terliteratur or β€œPaterfamilias literature”, which deals primarily with the proper management – the so-called oikologia – of a household; the Artesliteratur or β€œtechnical literature” with descriptions of weaponry and warfare; and the Erbauungsliteratur or β€œedification literature”, the compilation of spiritual texts for domestic use. Additionally, housebooks contain the patron’s biographical information or deal with special events. Printed housebooks proliferated during the 16th century but lost their popularity by the end of the century with some existing works being preserved in private ownership, including the manuscript at hand. Since the second half of the 20th century, they have been appreciated by scholars as significant sources, both with regard to their content and those who commissioned them.

State of the Manuscript

63 of the manuscript’s original 98 parchment leaves survive to the present. Of them, 47 contain at least partially colored pen and ink drawings measuring 25 x 15 cm for single pages and 35 x 26 cm for double pages. Most of the contents are drawn from various Latin and German texts and the hands of at least three different draftsmen can be discerned along with various colorists. The illustrations include coats of arms, planetary and astrological imagery, aristocratic pastimes such as tournaments, hunting, bathing, and courtship, and diagrams of various tools used by craftsmen and miners as well as military equipment and tactics.

Evolution of the Work

The composition of the manuscript appears to have changed as work on it progressed. Early sections are more elaborate in their design and execution using a sophisticated script and being more richly illustrated. Later sections added by another scribe are written in a simpler bastarda and are more practical in nature. Some of the illustrations appear to be based on engravings by the Master E.S., an anonymous late-Gothic German artist. However, some scholars argue that the housebook was designed with a coherent program that was never fully realized.

The Mysterious Patron

Despite beginning with an elaborate full-page coat of arms, the patron of this splendid compendium remains unknown. This coat of arms has never been definitively assigned to any family although names such as Ast, Klotz, Stange, or Buchner have been hypothesized. Some recent research speculates that the work was commissioned by the Archbishop of Mainz, Berthold von Henneberg (1442–1504) as a gift to Maximilian I (1459–1519) when he was still Archbishop of Austria.

Ownership History

During the 17th century, the manuscript came into the possession of Maximilian Willibald von Waldburg-Wolfegg, who was one of the most important art collectors of his time. For the next three centuries, the housebook has been kept in Wolfegg Castle in Wolfegg, Upper Swabia, as part of a private collection that remains obscure to the public. In February of 2008, the House of Waldburg-Wolfegg-Waldsee sold the work to an unnamed domestic buyer who is believed to be August von Finck Junior and is rumored to have paid 20,000,000 €.


Alternative Titles
Mittelalterliches Hausbuch von Schloss Wolfegg
Mittelalterliches Hausbuch
Size / Format
106 pages / 29.0 Γ— 19.5 cm
Ca. 1470–1480
47 colored pen drawings
Previous Owners
Maximilian Willibald of Waldburg-Wolfegg

Available facsimile editions:
Medieval Housebook of Wolfegg Castle – Prestel Verlag – Private Collection
Prestel Verlag – Frankfurt, 1997
Limited Edition: 750 copies
Detail Picture

Medieval Housebook of Wolfegg Castle

The Love Garden

The love garden or pleasure garden was a popular motif in the courtly literature of the Late Middle Ages and here serves to complete the cycle of paintings on aristocratic life. In an enclosed garden with a decorative fountain, four chivalrous couples enjoy themselves indulging not only in food, drink, and music but above all in courtship. A bagpiper joins the scenery through the gate on the left. Things are much more sedate on the right side of the stream, which meanders through the picture in artfully draped waves. A knight of the Order of the Jug and an elegantly dressed lady stroll along the bank and observe the boisterous hustle and bustle.

Medieval Housebook of Wolfegg Castle – Prestel Verlag – Private Collection
Single Page

Medieval Housebook of Wolfegg Castle

Mining Panorama

Embedded in a rocky but green landscape, an overview of medieval mining is given here from mining in tunnels carved into the mountain to crushing and transporting the ore away in wheelbarrows. Winding paths lead to the destinations of the processed material – a majestic castle and a fortified town next to an idyllic body of water. Meanwhile, a heated scuffle breaks out on the forecourt of the large administrative building in the lower left corner.

The couple on the lower right remains completely unimpressed by this as the knight of the Order of the Pitcher seems to be explaining the importance of mining for the life of the nobility to his beloved. This magnificent miniature fittingly introduces the chapter on mining, metallurgy, and coinage, which must have been extremely relevant for the blue-blooded owner of the book.

Medieval Housebook of Wolfegg Castle – Prestel Verlag – Private Collection
Facsimile Editions

#1 Das Mittelalterliche Hausbuch

Prestel Verlag – Frankfurt, 1997

Publisher: Prestel Verlag – Frankfurt, 1997
Limited Edition: 750 copies
Commentary: 1 volume by Christoph, Graf zu Waldburg Wolfegg
Languages: English, 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.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
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