Philostratus Flavius: Opera

Philostratus Flavius: Opera – Pytheas Books – Cod. Lat. 417 – Országos Széchényi Könyvtár (Budapest, Hungary)

Florence (Italy) — 1487–90

A precious book treasure from the largest secular library in early modern Europe: a magnificent Renaissance manuscript for the mighty King Corvinius of Hungary and his Bibliotheca Corviniana

  1. Flavius Philostratos (ca. 165–245) was a Greek sophist and author

  2. This Italian Renaissance manuscript was commissioned by King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary and Croatia (1443–90)

  3. The miniatures, including double-pages, were made in the Florentine workshop of Boccardino il Vecchio (1460–1529)

Philostratus Flavius: Opera

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Philostratus Flavius: Opera

The Bibliotheca Corviniana or Corvina Library was the greatest secular library of Renaissance Europe and was created by the one of the most powerful and well-educated monarchs of the period – Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary and Croatia. Burned by the Ottoman Turks in the aftermath of the Battle of Mohács in 1526, its loss was lamented across Europe, but some of its bibliographic treasures managed to be saved. Among these is a finely illuminated manuscript containing a curriculum vitae of ancient heroes and philosophers, letters, and the description of an art collection in Naples. It is one of the most beautiful specimens to survive from this famous library.

Philostratus Flavius: Opera

King Matthias Corvinus (23 February 1443 – 6 April 1490) was one of the most powerful rulers of Renaissance Europe as King of Hungary and Croatia. Educated in Italian and a great admirer of Italian renaissance art, he collected a library consisting of about 3,000 volumes called the Bibliotheca Corviniana. The Codex Philostratus Philostratus Flavius – Philostratus Lemnius Opera Cod. Lat. 417. (Florence, 1487–1490, parchment) is a piece of this collection, which contains the works of the sophist Philostratus of Athens and of his nephew (3rd c. AD.) In the book we find the curriculum vitae of ancient heroes and philosophers, letters, and the description of an art collection in Naples.

A Library Worthy of a King

The Philostratus Corvina is one of the most finely decorated codices of the Corvina Library. Its importance is unique: the translation, dedication, the splendid manuscript itself, from the first letter till the last brush stroke was created for King Matthias. The court historian Antonio Bonfini translated the work of the Athenian Sophist Philostratos (3rd century AD) and his nephew, from Greek into Latin in the spring of 1487. The illustrations were made in Florence, in the workshop of Boccardino il Vecchio. The manuscript reached Buda from Florence in Matthias’ lifetime, but the leather binding with architectural ornamentation bears the arms of his successor, Vladislaus II. In 1513, the Corvina Library was bought from Vladislaus II by the Viennese humanist Johannes Gremper, then finding its way to Johannes Cuspinianus, and later to Johannes Fabri. It was transferred from the Austrian National Library to the National Széchényi Library per the framework of the Venice Agreement in 1932.

Incredible Double-Page Depictions

All seven of the carefully arranged, predominantly red, blue, and gilded diptych-like double-pages are covered in finely executed miniatures: even the margins of pages, usually kept white, are painted in yellowish green with lace-like gilding. On the left-hand side you can read the contents index of the codex in the form of a monumental inscription: the gilded bronze sheet with embossed letters is in the frame of a white stone niche. On the pedestal of the building there is the imitation of an antique relief depicting a fight among sea gods. On the left, King Matthias’s antique-like medallion portrait appears surrounded by white putti and hanging arms, having the portraits of Nero and Hadrian, the two Roman emperors especially predisposed to Greek culture, on his two sides. (The caption in the medal calls Matthias, King of Hungary and Bohemia and Prince of Austria.) In the middle of the other side, there is the imitation of an oval bronze relief, showing Apollo, Olympus and Marsyas, modelled on a famous antique carnelian-intaglio (an engraved semi-precious gemstone) in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s art collection. There is a triumphal procession on the initial of the page on the right-hand side. The tiny crowned figure on the chariot has been identified as Matthias inter alia, while in other cases as his son János Corvin. The prologue actually describes the triumph celebrating the conquest of Wiener Neustadt. Both pages have Matthias’s coat of arms at the bottom (on the right, the shield also features Austria’s silver-swathed crest against a red background.) The ornaments on the margins feature the royal emblems (a beehive, a barrel, an hour-glass, a dragon and a well).


Alternative Titles
Codex Philostratus
Philostratus Flavius
Philostratus Lemnius Opera
Philostratus Corvina
Philostratus: Heroica
Size / Format
204 pages / 37.8 × 22.2 cm
Humanistic rotunda
8 full-page miniatures including a portrait of Matthias Corvinus, 158 initials, and splendid decorative borders
The works of the 3rd century Athenian Sophist Philostratos and his nephew in addition to letters and a description of an art collection in Naples
Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary and Croatia (1443–90)
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Wladislas II, King of Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia (1456–1516)
Johannes Gremper (d. after 1519)
Johannes Cuspinianus (1473–1529)
Johann Faber, Bishop of Vienna (1478–1541)
Saint Michael’s College of Vienna University
Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)

Available facsimile editions:
Philostratus Flavius: Opera – Pytheas Books – Cod. Lat. 417 – Országos Széchényi Könyvtár (Budapest, Hungary)
Pytheas Books – Budapest
Facsimile Editions

#1 Philostratus Flavius: Opera

Pytheas Books – Budapest
Facsimile Copy Available!
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