The Great Book of Love

Lleida (Spain) or France — Around 1320

The Great Book of Love

The Great Book of Love

Ms. Prov. F. V. XIV.1 National Library of Russia (St. Petersburg, Russia)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

Matfre Ermengaud, about whose lives historians have little information, lived as a Franciscan monk in the 13th century. In the period of 1288-1320, the exceptionally gifted and educated monk composed a unique manuscript, which united Christian theology and historical legal doctrine with the poetry of medieval troubadours. The incomparable masterpiece by the scholar bore the title of Breviari d'Amor and is considered today to be an absolute highpoint of 12th and 13th century Occitan literature.

Breviari d'Amor de Matfre Ermengaud

A troubadour was a poet, composer, and singer of medieval courtly poetry and song. Troubadour poetry enjoyed great popularity in the 12th and 13th centuries, especially in southern France. An unusually gifted representative of this art form was the Franciscan monk Matfre Ermengaud. He composed an influential text sometime between 1288 and 1320, which cited the genre of Troubadour poetry and reinterpreted it in an unforgettable way. Today, his so-called Breviari d'Amor, which one can translate as Book of Hours of Love, is considered to be one of the most important works of Occitan poetry. It is enchantingly illustrated with 29 full-page and 192 small-format miniatures.

The Scholar Matfre Ermengaud

Today, researchers have only been able to find a small amount of information about the life of Matfre Ermengaud. He was born in the middle of the 13th century in the southern French town of Béziers. He dedicated his life to jurisprudence and poetry. He attributed particularly high worth to a comprehensive education and was a true medieval legal expert. He even obtained a law degree, which can be equated today with a master’s degree in law. When he entered into the Franciscan Order is not known. He probably already started his work on the Breviari d'Amor, before he began his life as a monk. What lends Ermengaud’s manuscript its unique status in the history of literature is the fact that his text combines the theological tradition with legal doctrines. There is no other medieval manuscript that can be compared with the work of Matfre Ermengaud.

A Literary Cultural Asset

The Breviari d'Amor contains ca. 34,500 verses and is composed in octosyllabic rhyming couplets. It is an extensive, multi-faceted, and didactic text, which can be compared with an encyclopedia. The Christian love of God was formulated in the manner of love poetry, which would have been performed by troubadours. In doing so, Ermengaud cited literary examples of the most-varied historical epochs. Quotations from classic troubadours like Aimeric de Peguilhan, Bernart de Ventadorn, and Peire Vidal are found particularly often in his manuscript. Quotations of his own from Ermengaud’s earlier writings are equally represented as well as from texts by his brother Piere. It becomes apparent thereto, just how exceptionally well read and educated the Franciscan monk was.

A Unique Work of Book Art

The work was structured in several parts. It begins with a theological section, which bears the translated title of “Studies of God and the Creation of the World”. This section addresses the Holy Trinity, angels, demons, symbols of the zodiac, and known stars and planets on each page. Thereafter follows a section with the title “Studies of Nature and the Natural Law”, in which the correct modes of divine worship were discussed, the temptations of the world were reviewed, and the sins were named that good Christians should avoid at any price. In the last section, “The Love of God”, the profession of faith is recorded along with a few legends of saints. Legendary miniatures in various sizes and in bright colors and before a shimmering gold background illustrate the comprehensive work and clarify Ermengaud’s descriptions. Additionally, the text is furnished with a gorgeous and inventive bordure adorned with flowers and tendrils.

Codicology

Size / Format
504 pages / 35.0 x 24.5 cm
Date
Around 1320
Style
Gothic
Language
Illustrations
29 full-page miniatures and 192 smaller miniatures
Artist / School

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „The Great Book of Love“

Das Große Buch der Liebe
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Das Große Buch der Liebe

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
AyN Ediciones – Madrid, 2003
Limited Edition
995
Commentary
1 volume
Regular price without login (like new)15,170 €
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