Wenceslas Bible

Wenceslas Bible

Prague (Czech Republic) — 1389–1400

Made in the famous Wenceslas workshop in Prague: a mammoth bible in German with 646 fantastic miniatures for the German emperor

  1. This lavish German language Bible predates the famous translation of Martin Luther (1483–1546) by almost 150 years

  2. Commissioned by King Wenceslas IV (1361–1419) between 1390 and 1400, it was furnished with 646 masterful miniatures in his Prague “Wenceslas Workshop”

  3. Appearing often therein are his favorite animal, the kingfisher, the "Wenceslas knot", and the "woman with bath tub" (a lover?)

Wenceslas Bible

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (10)
Description
Wenceslas Bible

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg was not the first German-language Bible. In fact, the Wenceslas Bible predates it by almost 150 years. The massive, multi-volume Bible was made in Prague at the behest of King Wenceslas IV of Bohemia between 1390 and 1400 and is considered to be a primary work of medieval illumination. Aside from the important German translation of the Bible, the manuscript contains some of the finest illumination in art history including 646 miniatures and endless marginal depictions with entertaining and humorous drolleries. This magnum opus is housed today among the splendid collections of the Austrian National Library.

Wenceslas Bible

Almost 150 years before Luther’s translation of the Bible was first published, one of the most reputed schools of illumination in Prague produced the first German deluxe Bible manuscript. The Wenceslas Bible, with its 646 miniatures and rich, frequently symbolical and narrative marginal decoration, was written at the behest of King Wenceslas I of Bohemia between 1390 and 1400. Words are insufficient to describe the elaborate, extremely lavish decoration of this luxury Bible. Wenceslas summoned the best illuminators of Europe to his court in Prague where they created this unique manuscript. Unfortunately, the artists have all remained anonymous.

The First Deluxe Bible Manuscript in German

A chef-d’œuvre of Wenceslas’ workshop and a major achievement of European illumination, the Wenceslas Bible had only raised the interest of art historians until recently. Its distinction as a bibliophilic gem of the first order should, however, not make us forget that with more than 2,400 pages, it also constitutes a highly important, if not the most important and finest documentation of pre-Reformation Bible translation. Of the three volumes originally planned (two tomes for the Old and one for the New Testament) only the two of the Old Testament were executed. By the 18th century the manuscript had grown to enormous size and filled six volumes, when it found its way from the Bohemian court to that of the Habsburg dynasty. Today, the giant-format books are kept in the Austrian National Library.

The Fascinating World of Drolleries

The marginal decorations of the Wenceslas Bible are almost as fascinating as its miniatures. These drolleries are characterized by an unmistakable sense of humor. Among the main protagonists, one finds a girl dressed in a short, shirt-like garment whose attributes – a bucket and a sponge – identify her as a bathing maiden. She is accompanied by a male figure, probably King Wenceslas himself, who frequently appears captured in the letters W and E. In addition, countless allegorical creatures, such as the wild man or the kingfisher, roam throughout the book.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Wenzelsbibel
Bibel des Königs Wenzel
Wenzel Bible
Size / Format
2,352 pages / 53.0 × 36.5 cm
Date
1389–1400
Style
Language
Illustrations
646 large miniatures, countless illuminated borders and initials

Available facsimile editions:
Wenceslas Bible – Codices Vindobonenses 2759-2764 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1987
Limited Edition: 780 copies

Wenzelsbibel (Half Leather Edtion)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1987
Limited Edition: 25 copies

Wenzelsbibel (1-Volume-Edition)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1987
Limited Edition: 25 copies

Die Wenzelsbibel: Genesis und Exodus (Volume 1)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1981

Die Wenzelsbibel: Leviticus und Numeri (Volume 2)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1982

Die Wenzelsbibel: Deutoronomium und Josua (Volume 3)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1982

Die Wenzelsbibel: Richter, Ruth und Samuel I (Volume 4)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1984

Die Wenzelsbibel: Samuel II und Könige I (Volume 5)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1985

Die Wenzelsbibel: Könige II und Chronik I (Volume 6)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1986

Die Wenzelsbibel: Chronik II, Esra I und Esra II (Volume 7)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1987
Detail Picture

Wenceslas Bible

Finding of Moses

This beautiful Gothic miniature depicts how Moses’ mother saved him from the slaughter of male Hebrew children that had been ordered by Pharaoh. “Then the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river. And her maidens walked along the riverside; and when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it. And when she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children’.” (Ex. 2:5-6)

Wenzelsbibel (Complete Edition)
Single Page

Wenceslas Bible

Book of Genesis: 7 Days of Creation

This kaleidoscope of illumination is a wonderful testament to the artistic décor of this manuscript, one of the greatest works of medieval book art. It is an exemplary page of Gothic illumination consisting of bright hues of red, blue, green, and gold leaf. Seven medallion miniatures depict the beginning of Genesis, wherein the creation of the world is recounted.

As is true with the rest of the manuscript, the marginalia of this page is as artistically refined as the miniature itself. The escutcheons of King Wenceslas IV, who commissioned the manuscript, can be seen, as well as a shield that has been scrapped. There are also numerous crowns, birds, human figures, angels, grotesques, and other details embedded into the gorgeous flowering tendrils.

Wenzelsbibel (Complete Edition)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Wenzelsbibel (Complete Edition)

Wenceslas Bible – Codices Vindobonenses 2759-2764 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)
Wenceslas Bible – Codices Vindobonenses 2759-2764 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Limited Edition: 780 copies
Binding: Hearvy leather binding with love knot on front cover
Commentary: 2 volumes by G. Schmidt, H. Heger, I. Hlaváˇcek and F. U nterkircher
Language: German

2 commentary volumes by G. Schmidt (Vienna), H. Heger (Vienna), I. Hlavácek (Prague). F. Unterkircher (Vienna).
Binding: leather. All folios are cut according to the original size and sewn according to the original gathering.
9 volumes: 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. All 2,428 pages of the manuscript are reproduced in the original format of 53 x 36.5 cm, compiled in 9 volumes and totalling 464 miniatures and countless drolleries. Two commentary volumes describe the miniatures and present the contents of the manuscript in all its aspects. The single volumes: Vol. 1: GENESIS and EXODUS Vol. 2: LEVITICUS and NUMERI Vol. 3: DEUTERONOMIUM and JOSUA Vol. 4: RICHTER, RUTH and SAMUEL I Vol. 5: SAMUEL II, KINGS I Vol. 6: KINGS II, CHRONIK I Vol. 7: CHRONIK II, ESRA I, ESRA II Vol. 8: ESRA III, TOBIAS, PREDIGER Vol. 9: Documentation Volume Two commentary volumes All folios are cut according to the original.
Price Category: €€€ (3,000€ - 7,000€)
Edition available
Price: Login here!

#2 Wenzelsbibel (Half Leather Edtion)

Wenzelsbibel (Half Leather Edtion)
Wenzelsbibel (Half Leather Edtion) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Limited Edition: 25 copies
Binding: Half leather binding with love knot on front cover
Commentary: 2 volumes by G. Schmidt, H. Heger, I. Hlaváˇcek and F. U nterkircher
Language: German

2 commentary volumes by G. Schmidt (Vienna), H. Heger (Vienna), I. Hlavácek (Prague). F. Unterkircher (Vienna).
Binding: leather. All folios are cut according to the original size and sewn according to the original gathering.
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. All 2,428 pages of the manuscript are reproduced in the original format of 53 x 36.5 cm in 1 volume and totalling 464 miniatures and countless drolleries. Two commentary volumes describe the miniatures and present the contents of the manuscript in all its aspects. All folios are cut according to the original.

#3 Wenzelsbibel (1-Volume-Edition)

Limited Edition: 25 copies
Binding: Hearvy leather binding
Commentary: 2 volumes by G. Schmidt, H. Heger, I. Hlaváˇcek and F. U nterkircher
Language: German

2 commentary volumes by G. Schmidt (Vienna), H. Heger (Vienna), I. Hlavácek (Prague). F. Unterkircher (Vienna).
Binding: leather. All folios are cut according to the original size and sewn according to the original gathering.
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. All 2,428 pages of the manuscript are reproduced in the original format of 53 x 36.5 cm in 1 volume and totalling 464 miniatures and countless drolleries. Two commentary volumes describe the miniatures and present the contents of the manuscript in all its aspects. All folios are cut according to the original.

#4 Die Wenzelsbibel: Genesis und Exodus (Volume 1)

Binding: Leather
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Reproduction of folios 1-98 of the original document (Cod. Vindob. 2759) as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.

#5 Die Wenzelsbibel: Leviticus und Numeri (Volume 2)

Binding: Leather
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Reproduction of folios 98-174 of the original document (Cod. Vindob. 2759) as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.

#6 Die Wenzelsbibel: Deutoronomium und Josua (Volume 3)

Binding: Leather
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Reproduction of folios 174-239 of the original document (Cod. Vindob. 2759) as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.

#7 Die Wenzelsbibel: Richter, Ruth und Samuel I (Volume 4)

Binding: Leather
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Reproduction of folios 1-74 of the original document (Cod. Vindob. 2760) as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.

#8 Die Wenzelsbibel: Samuel II und Könige I (Volume 5)

Binding: Leather
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Reproduction of folios 74-148 of the original document (Cod. Vindob. 2760) as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.

#9 Die Wenzelsbibel: Könige II und Chronik I (Volume 6)

Binding: Leather
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Reproduction of folios 148-182 of the original document (Cod. Vindob. 2760) as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.

#10 Die Wenzelsbibel: Chronik II, Esra I und Esra II (Volume 7)

Binding: Leather
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Reproduction of folios 32-112 of the original document (Cod. Vindob. 2761) as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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