Travels of Sir John of Mandeville

Travels of Sir John of Mandeville

Bohemia (Czech Republic) — Ca. 1410–1420

A unicum of illumination and a testimony to Bohemian book art: a travelogue illuminated with 28 demi-grisaille miniatures on green-colored parchment

  1. The popular story was translated from French into Czech by Vavrinec of Brezová (ca. 1370 – ca. 1437) ca. 1410

  2. Aside from being an English knight, the true identity behind the pseudonym of Jean de Mandeville remains a mystery

  3. This is a fine testament to the artistic flowering that occurred in early-15th century Bohemia

Travels of Sir John of Mandeville

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Travels of Sir John of Mandeville

The Travels of Sir Jean de Mandeville was one of the most popular texts of the Middle Ages. This manuscript from the British Library is a particularly fine specimen of early 15th century Bohemian illumination. It presents the story entirely in pictures: the events are depicted in 28 full-page miniatures without text – such is the narrative power and artistry of these images, each a fine specimen of the grisaille technique. An additional idiosyncrasy of the manuscript is its parchment, which was completely dyed green and thereby represents an absolute unicum.

Travels of Sir John Mandeville

An enchanting parchment manuscript with Gothic illumination from Bohemia originated during the first quarter of the 15th century. The knight John Mandeville’s 30-year-long adventure is illustrated by 28 full-page miniatures. These miniatures are unaccompanied by text, aside from a banner held by one of the figures in the miniature on f. 10, 'SPQR', and the image program is based on the Czech translation by Vavrinec of Brezová (ca. 1370 – ca. 1437), written c. 1410. This work of art originated from the hand of the so-called Master of the Mandeville Travels, known only by his name of convenience. An additional idiosyncrasy of the manuscript is its parchment, which was completely dyed green and thereby represents an absolute unicum.

Fascination with the Foreign

As fantastic as The Travels of Sir Jean de Mandeville sounded, the account was just as successful. Whoever was really behind the mysterious pseudonym of Jean de Mandeville, who presented himself as an English knight, remains contested to this day. In any case, he came world famous as the author of a compiled travelogue written in French between 1357 and 1371. In doing so, he not only made use of his own, presumably realistic experiences, but also numerous sources from historiography and literature, e.g. the Legenda Aurea by Jacobus de Voragine, the Rhabanus Maurus, or the Arthurian legend.

A Demi-Grisaille Masterpiece

Grisaille painting is a method that exclusively uses shades of grey or another neutral tone and is especially useful for depicting sculptures or as a model for engravers. Although seemingly less demanding than a full-color painting, the method can also serve to demonstrate the skill of a great master, or betray the hand of a less-talented assistant. Notable medieval practitioners include Jean Pucelle (ca. 1300–55), one of the greatest masters of 14th century France, whose Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux is an excellent example of the *demi-grisaille technique that sparingly uses colors. The Master of the Mandeville Travels also makes sparing use of color, typically in the oft-patterned backgrounds or to emphasize important figures or objects. This allows him to focus on form and other details like facial expressions and garment folds, accounting for the surprisingly real and naturalistic aesthetic of these 28 miniatures. Furthermore, by utilizing parchment pages dyed with a delicate green, he was able to create a unique and refined work that can stand on its own without text.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
I Viaggi di Sir John Mandeville
Los Viajes de Sir John Mandeville
Die Reisen des Ritters John Mandeville
Size / Format
32 pages / 22.5 × 18.0 cm
Date
Ca. 1410–1420
Style
Language
Illustrations
28 full-page miniatures

Available facsimile editions:
Travels of Sir John of Mandeville – Add MS 24189 – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Patrimonio Ediciones – Valencia, 2018
Detail Picture

Travels of Sir John Mandeville

The Greek Mission of Pope John XXII

Enthroned in front of a lavish tapestry and wearing the golden papal tiara, the longest-reigning Avignon Pope receives a letter from a Greek emissary. The message from Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos rejecting papal supremacy over the “Greek Church” and criticizing their pride and avarice provokes irritated and dissatisfied looks on the faces of John XXII and his cardinals. However, this popular anecdote is apocryphal and reflects widespread dissatisfaction with the Avignon Papacy.

Los Viajes de Sir John Mandeville
Single Page

Travels of Sir John Mandeville

Traveling to Constantinople

Sir John Mandeville’s journey to the East initially took him through the kingdoms of Germany and Hungary to Constantinople. The first significant place he describes is the modern city of Sopron, Hungary, followed by Eisenberg Castle, the precise location of which is unknown. Although not described in the text, the artist has drawn large dragonflies buzzing along the riverbank.

Groups of travelers gesture vividly while discussing their route. As the protagonist, Mandeville is portrayed larger than the others and points to the gates of a city where the highways converge. He and his companions are also more sumptuously dressed to distinguish them. One of the figures depicted either crossing or sailing down the Danube River waves goodbye.

Los Viajes de Sir John Mandeville
Facsimile Editions

#1 Los Viajes de Sir John Mandeville

Patrimonio Ediciones – Valencia, 2018
Travels of Sir John of Mandeville – Add MS 24189 – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Travels of Sir John of Mandeville – Add MS 24189 – British Library (London, United Kingdom) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: Patrimonio Ediciones – Valencia, 2018
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: €€€ (3,000€ - 7,000€)
Edition available
Price: Login here!
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