Posted by: mattcolvin | September 27, 2010

A Royal Book

While I was at Cornell, I checked out from the library a Getty Museum facsimile edition of the Habsburg emperors’ Ferdinand I and Rudolph II’s prized illuminated calligraphy book, the Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta. I do a little calligraphy myself, but I’m a mere dabbler compared to the imperial secretary Georg Bocskay, who wrote the book in 1561-1562.

The manuscript is doubly interesting because of the illuminations added some thirty years later by the Belgian Joris Hoefnagel in the 1590’s. These are precursors of the new genre of the still life that blossomed in the Low Countries in the next century. The book is thus a scintillating competition between the written word and the painted image. For me, the calligraphy is the main attraction. There is a page in Greek, and two in Hebrew. Most, however, are in Latin, in a bewildering variety of styles. Bocskay was the most famous scribe in Europe, and I look on his work the way a stumbling Suzuki violin student might look at Joshua Bell playing Bach or Paganini. It’s also great fun for an antiquarian philologist to read the texts.

The book itself is a luxurious little gemlike volume.

A few pages for your perusal:



  1. I couldn’t be certain last night that those where not your pages of calligraphy and various images from nature. Does it say more about your relative talent to the true artist or about my artistic ignorance and general blindness?

  2. Beautiful!
    The book “Nature Illuminated” is full of pages from “Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta”.
    Unfortunately the page size is 5×7″.

    The details are much easier to see in the examples you put here.

    • The original volume in the Getty Museum is 6 9/16 x 4 7/8 in. Which means that the facsimile copy I have is the same size as the original, and that the 5×7″ pages in your “Nature Illuminated” book are about the same size.

      I want to get a good magnifier for perusing the book.

  3. […] blogged before in the Calligraphy Category about Georg Bocskay’s little book, Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta. I […]

  4. […] like to see iPad versions of the Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta, the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Barry, Codex Sinaiticus, and the copy of Manuel Philes’ […]

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