In the 1500s, as printing became the most common method of producing books, intellectuals increasingly valued the inventiveness of scribes and the aesthetic qualities of writing. From 1561 to 1562, Georg Bocskay, the Croatian-born court secretary to the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I, created this Model Book of Calligraphy in Vienna to demonstrate his technical mastery of the immense range of writing styles known to him.
About thirty years later, Emperor Rudolph II, Ferdinand’s grandson, commissioned Joris Hoefnagel to illuminate Bocskay’s model book. Hoefnagel added fruit, flowers, and insects to nearly every page, composing them so as to enhance the unity and balance of the page’s design. It was one of the most unusual collaborations between scribe and painter in the history of manuscript illumination.
Because of Hoefnagel’s interest in painting objects of nature, his detailed images complement Rudolph II’s celebrated Kunstkammer, a cabinet of curiosities that contained bones, shells, fossils, and other natural specimens. Hoefnagel’s careful images of nature also influenced the development of Netherlandish still life painting.
In addition to his fruit and flower illuminations, Hoefnagel added to the Model Book a section on constructing the letters of the alphabet in upper- and lowercase.
Every page of these works are absolutely exquisite, in all aspects. There are a lot of them, too! You can see them all here, and they are free to download in several sizes.
These are incredible. They must have been extremely time consuming to make. On the last one there seems to be an outline the artist later on decided to change. Maybe it was too costly to toss the material and start anew, once the work was done to a certain degree.
As the illustrations and illuminating was done 30 years after the calligraphy, no, the material could not be tossed out, as the calligrapher was long dead. That would have added a great deal of pressure to such a job.
I have not noticed that detail. That explains it. That must have been extreme pressure on the artist.
These are gorgeous. So detailed and elegant. And the colours are so vibrant that’s it’s hard to believe they are so old. They just invite you to get close. Both artists are masters, but can you imagine the pressure of painting on such masterpieces of calligraphy. Most wonderful. Thanks!
They were both extraordinary artists; Hoefnagel also had to compose his selected items for each page to match Bocskay’s calligraphy. It’s an astonishing work, and I was lost and torn trying to select just a few of the pages for this post. They are all stunning.
Joseph Zowghi says
Wow! From delicate sinuousness to stately simplicity. And did Bocskay actually write backwards in that last one? Wonderful work.
Joseph, yes, he did! And much more. I haven’t made it all the way through them all, but to say Bocskay was a master is an understatement.
I love the calligraphy so much, done right -- so many flourishes and details, but the text remains legible.
The realism and colours of the drawings are amazing, the insecta especially.