Pontifical of Boniface IX

Pontifical of Boniface IX – ArtCodex – ms. vat. lat. 3747 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)

Italy — End of the 14th century

Created for a Pope at war with the powerful Visconti: a golden treasure of Gothic book art for the reading of the Holy Mass and a spectacular highlight of the Vatican Library

  1. A breathtaking Gothic prayer book that was used during ceremonial masses for various church festivals

  2. The extensive use of gold reflects its origins as a commission of Pope Boniface IX (ca. 1350–1404) from ca. 1400

  3. The pontifical is a treasure of Late Gothic European book art and a highlight of the Vatican Library

Pontifical of Boniface IX

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Pontifical of Boniface IX

This manuscript, the so-called Pontifical of Pope Boniface IX, originated from Italy at the end of the 14th century and is regarded as a famous and sumptuous example of a pontifical. The text consists of the liturgy and other texts necessary for the performance of Masses, consecrations, coronations, and other rituals by a bishop. Nearly every page of the manuscript is richly decorated. It is adorned with eleven precious full-page miniatures and numerous refined marginal depictions ennobled with gold resulting in a colorful and shimmering masterpiece of the Italian Gothic style. Today the splendid liturgical work is housed in the Vatican Library among its most prized possessions.

Pontifical of Boniface IX

Among the numerous illuminated manuscripts in the famous Vatican Library, some of the greatest masterpieces of medieval book art are to be found. One of these valuable works is the Pontifical of Pope Boniface IX. It is a breathtaking illustrated prayer book that was used in the Gothic period during ceremonial masses on various church festivals. The manuscript was commissioned at the end of the 14th century by Pope Boniface IX and contains numerous delightfully decorated initials and subtly patterned borders alongside eleven graceful, full-page miniatures.

What is a Pontifical?

A pontifical is a liturgical book with instructions and texts for festive, ritual Masses and celebrations of the Catholic Church, which would be performed or led by a bishop. Instructions for the performance of lower and higher consecrations and other ritual actions, which were to be implemented by the bishop were found in historical pontificals. For example, the rules of a pontifical were used for the consecration of deacons and priests, as well as the ceremonial of a coronation. Many historical pontificals are splendidly designed and represent antiquarian treasures today. The Pontifical of Boniface IX is a famous example of this.

Enchanting Book Illustration

Nearly every page of the valuable manuscript is charmingly illuminated. The codex contains eleven full-page miniatures that reflect the narrative joy of the anonymous illuminator in a fanciful manner. The vivid images in fresh colors show high spiritual and secular representatives of the church performing important church duties. The opulent application of gold leaf in the miniatures attests to the noble character of the work. Also, no expense was spared for the colorful and golden elements of the manifold decorative frames that adorn each page of the book. This pontifical is one of the most impressive examples of Late Gothic European book art.


Alternative Titles
Pontificale di Bonifacio IX
Pontifikale Papst Bonifazius IX.
Size / Format
88 pages / 31.0 × 21.0 cm
End of the 14th century
Gothic Textura Prescissa
11 full-page miniatures. Most of the pages are decorated with illuminated initials and refined frames
Ritual and the prayers for papal functions
Pope Boniface IX (1389–1404)

Available facsimile editions:
Pontifical of Boniface IX – ArtCodex – ms. vat. lat. 3747 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
ArtCodex – Modena, 2007
Limited Edition: 500 copies
Detail Picture

Pontifical of Boniface IX

Medallion and Marginalia

Found in the base of a large “I” initial, this medallion miniature shows a choir consisting of both clergy and laity assembled around a song book on a lectern. The colorful tendril spirals growing out of it contain a priest wearing a wide-brimmed hat, two musicians, two birds, a cherub, and three human faces. The incredible color palette and shimmering, mirror-like gold leaf are matched by the quality and intricacy of the design and the skill with which the artist executed it.

Pontifical of Boniface IX – ArtCodex – ms. vat. lat. 3747 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
Single Page

Pontifical of Boniface IX

Benedictio coram populo

Although it has some serious competition, this is considered to be the most impressive miniature in this exceptionally richly adorned manuscript. It shows Boniface IX giving a benediction to a crowd of the faithful from a balcony in full papal vestments. Flanked by cardinals, the Pope is standing in a Gothic style architecture with pointed arches and embellished column capitals.

This miniature strongly resembles a fresco by Giotto found in the Church of St. John Lateran, which depicts a crowd being blessed during the first Jubilee in 1300. Since two Jubilees were promulgated during Boniface’s reign, this may well be the case here. The scene is surrounded by an incredible golden frame and supported by two angels holding coats of arms.

Pontifical of Boniface IX – ArtCodex – ms. vat. lat. 3747 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Pontificale di Bonifacio IX

ArtCodex – Modena, 2007

Publisher: ArtCodex – Modena, 2007
Limited Edition: 500 copies
Binding: Leather with the gold engraved coat of arms of Pope Boniface IX. Comes In a box of precious wood.
Commentary: 1 volume (159 pages) by Ambrogio M. Prazzoni
Language: Italian
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: €€€€€ (over 10,000€)
Edition available
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