The Book of Wonders

The Book of Wonders

Defensorium inviolatae virginitatis beatae Mariae

Enchanting miniatures of the Cologne School

This delicate German manuscript dating form the beginning of the 16th century (today in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin) makes the impossible possible and also credible for the contemporary reader.

The anonymous artist loves genre painting and dealing with antique figures that he outfits, however, with the clothing and appearance of his own day. Probably based in Cologne, he is clearly marked by the school of Stefan Lochner.

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Wonders of antiquity selected by a Dominican theologian

Each occurrence represented in a delicate full-page miniature on the recto is completed with explanatory texts in German and Latin on the recto. The text created by a Dominican monk in Vienna named Franz von Retz (1343–1427) was very popular in the 16th century and is based on ideas of Albertus Magnus or Isidore of Seville. The author created a particular form of late medieval typology and emblemology, which due to its vividness could only be transposed and explained in painting. Furthermore, he teached at the University of Vienna and reformed the Dominican Order in Germany.

The illustration of the inconceivable

This Defensorium inviolatae perpetuaequae virginitatis castissimae genetricis beatae Mariae with its beautiful, almost romantic pictures was created to prove the existence of inconceivable things: birds that grow on trees; water that a virgin can carry in a sieve; as well as other, better known myths like the phoenix rising from the ashes; Circe turning humans into animals; or the lion who brings his cubs to life with a roar. All that just to prove that Mary’s virginity is part of a series of unbelievable but true occurrences.

The reasoning in picture and text follows a particular logic. If the gods of pagan antiquity are thought to have worked miracles, how much more credible are the miracles of the Christian world?

Impressive interiors and atmospheric landscapes of a refreshing colourfulness are distinguishing features of the painter’s style, as is the love for details, which requires calm and patient contemplation by the viewer. It is truly amazing how well he manages to illustrate the inconceivable.

The wondrous occurences compiled by

Franz von Retz

This delicate book is extraordinary in all its aspects: A total of 37 illuminated pages show marvelous sequences of late medieval beliefs and phantasies, an unimaginable world full of wonders and myths.

All these incredible stories taken from nature, history, ancient mythology and legends as well the Old Testament were compiled only for one purpose: to prove the virginal maternity of Mary.

The present facsimile edition, commented by Professor Eberhard König, today’s undisputed expert on 15th century illumination, is the first publication to present this unfortunately long unknown document of Western art and religious history.

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