Older Prayerbook of Emperor Charles V

Older Prayerbook of Emperor Charles V

Ghent or Bruges (Belgium) — 1516–1519

Artistic perfection: the personal prayer book of the most powerful man in Europe

  1. This codex belongs to the last generation of this type of book and distinguishes itself in several ways

  2. Many of its features can be considered to be artistically perfect, e.g. the details of peoples' garments

  3. The personal religiosity of the emperor is reflected in the numerous signs of use throughout the text

Older Prayerbook of Emperor Charles V

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Older Prayerbook of Emperor Charles V

The Older Prayer Book of Emperor Charles V is a livres d'heures that belongs to the last generation of this type of book and distinguishes itself in several ways. The artistry of the codex is a mix of elaborate artistry and subdued, simple decoration intended not to distract the faithful from the content of the text. The personal religiosity of the emperor is reflected in the numerous signs of use throughout the text. That being said, many of its features can be considered to be artistically perfect, including the details of peoples' garments and the landscapes in the backgrounds. The design of the manuscript indicates a purposeful restraint intended to curtail any unnecessary pomp, and that this manuscript was intended primarily for religious edification, not as an artistic display of wealth and sophistication. A truly wonderful testimony to Charles V's spirituality.

Older Prayerbook of Emperor Charles V

In the years from 1516 to 1519, when young Charles was King of Spain but before his imperial coronation, he was given a prayer book that he was to use with great zeal, judging by the wear and tear still visible today. The outstandingly beautiful decoration of the Older Prayerbook of Emperor Charles V is worthy of a sovereign who was to become the famous emperor in whose realm the sun never set. The artistic decoration consists of 76 miniatures whose format is essentially defined by the frame, additional borders enriched with graphical ornament, colorful initials dispersed throughout the text, as well as line endings on the painted pages matching the color of the frames. The 24 calendar pages introducing the text are decorated throughout with initials, ornamental borders, and alternating red and black script, all constituting elaborate works of art in their own right, even without figural decoration. The artist, however, avoided opulent splendor, which might have prevented the devout from concentrating on the contents of the book. On the contrary, the ascetic simplicity of the frames further enhances the organic unity of text and decoration, making the book not only a precious showpiece but also an object of devotion much used by the young king and eventual emperor.

The Artistic Furnishings

Although the prayer book is in line with the well-established tradition of the livres d’heures, its individual layout and decorative concept still differ from other numerous examples of this genre. It belongs to the last generation of this type of book which flourished up to the second decade of the 16th century, but start declining in the third. Rather than representing a transitional phase, it marks the finale of a great tradition. The invaluable miniatures are the work of an anonymous master. An important feature is the delicate color palette whose beauty defines the artistic effect of this book, lending the landscapes in the background a soft, vaporous tone, and skimming the details. While the artist masters landscape perspectives with great perfection, the architectural elements in the foreground remain rather simple and plain. The painter particularly enjoys representing fashion details, especially of female clothing. The Elder Prayer Book of Charles V has opted for simple but effectual framing without exaggerating pomp. Moreover, the initials deserve particular mention as ornamental elements. They are the work of one master who created them in close co-operation with the scribe and the miniaturist. He also made the numerous line endings with delicate multi-color ornamental bands conferring a joyful, colorful aspect especially to the pages of the calendar.

A Priceless Jewel for Pious Devotion

The book is written in Latin, a language comprehensible to any educated person of this period. Only a small number of prayers, some rubrics, and inserted instructions, are in French. The codex was written by a single hand following a specially devised plan, in a very diligent and delicate Burgundian bastarda. The noble simplicity of the script befits this precious object of private devotion. The outstanding value of this small format prayer book is further demonstrated by the use of the finest virgin vellum. The royal owner and zealous user of the manuscript, Charles V, is depicted on fol. 213v. On this page as well as the following one (fol. 214r), which represents the prayer to his own guardian angel, the text is nearly illegible due to soiling through excessive use. This prayer book, whose outward form reflects the dignity of its royal owner, served as a book of edification for the young sovereign who often sat with it in devotion and meditation.

The Commentary Volume

The comprehensive scholarly commentary was written by Heinrich Karl von Liechtenstein and provides a codicological and art historical introduction to the Elder Prayer Book of Charles V. Furthermore, it deals with the textual contents of the book in a comprehensible way and describes the decorative apparatus with numerous comparative figures.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Das ältere Gebetbuch Kaiser Karls V.
Älteres Gebetbuch Kaiser Karls V.
Size / Format
512 pages / 15.3 × 8.3 cm
Origin
Belgium
Date
1516–1519
Script
Bâtarde
Illustrations
76 miniatures from the Gent-Bruges School and numerous colored initials
Content
Liturgy of the Hours
Previous Owners
Emperor Charles V (1500–58)

Available facsimile editions:
Older Prayerbook of Emperor Charles V – Cod. Vindob. 1859 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1976
Detail Picture

Older Prayerbook of Emperor Charles V

The Veil of Veronica

According to legend, St. Veronica encountered Jesus on his way to Calvary and wiped the blood and sweat from his face with her veil, which became one of the most venerated relics during the Middle Ages. Christ’s face is shown as though it were a portrait looking directly out at the beholder, including details of his hair and the blood on his brow. Veronica is dressed in the fashion of the 16th century: a stylish hat, flowing dress, and tailored blouse with puffy sleeves.

Das ältere Gebetbuch Kaiser Karls V
Single Page

Older Prayer Book of Emperor Charles V

Coronation of the Virgin

This scene is usually presented as the final episode in the Life of the Virgin and follows her Assumption. The title Regina Coeli or “Queen of Heaven” first appeared in the 12th century and this artistic theme first appeared in an English tympanum around that time. By the 16th century, it had an established iconography.

Presented in an elegant architectural frame, the typical characters are present here: God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. However, this depiction of the Virgin Mary’s coronation is unusual because God the Father is usually depicted as older and wearing a Papal tiara, but both figures appear identical in dress and appearance here – a suggestion about the nature of the Trinity perhaps?

Das ältere Gebetbuch Kaiser Karls V
Facsimile Editions

#1 Das ältere Gebetbuch Kaiser Karls V

Older Prayerbook of Emperor Charles V – Cod. Vindob. 1859 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)
Older Prayerbook of Emperor Charles V – Cod. Vindob. 1859 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Binding: Green velvet
Commentary: 1 volume (94 pages) by Prince Heinrich K. of Liechtenstein
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.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
Please ask for a quote!
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