The Wenceslas Bible is the first deluxe codex to be written in German no less than 150 years before the Martin Luther published its translation of the Bible in the vernacular. Commissioned by King Wenceslas I of Bohemia around 1390-1400, it was crafted in Prague and contains 646 opulent illuminations with often symbolical depictions and elaborate marginal decoration, . This Bible's extremely sumptuous and detailed depictions leave the reader and beholder almost speechless. Though the artists who worked on this masterpiece remained anonymous, it is sure that the King employed only the best craftsmen he could summon to decorate this work of art.
The Wenceslas Bible, the Archetype of German Illumination
Until recent times, the Wenceslas Bible had only been examined by historians, scholars somehow overlooking it as an excellent achievement in the field of book illumination. Though it does hold unprecedented and unquestionable artistic value, one must also remember that its nearly 2,400 pages are also the first testimony of a pre-Reformation vernacular translation of the Bible. Three volumes had originally been planned (two books for the Old Testament, one for the New): however, only the first two have managed to be produced. Around the 18th century the book was acquired by the Habsburg dynasty, and became one of the most cherished treasures of the Bohemian court. Nowadays, the six large manuscripts are preserved by the Austrian National Library.
Drolleries: the Fascinating World of the Middle Ages
Unlike many other books, the marginal decorations of the Wenceslas Bible are equally as important and beautiful as its main illuminations. The drolleries they contain display an unquestionable sense of humor. One example speaks for all: the girl clothed in a short garment with a sponge and a bucket, possibly a bathing maiden. Next to her is a male character, maybe King Wenceslas himself, is often flanked by the letters W and E. Moreover, one can find numerous allegorical 'creatures', such as the homeless man or the kingfisher, who populate all of the book's pages.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Wenceslas Bible": Die Wenzelsbibel (Complete Edition) facsimile edition, published by Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA), 1981