The Codex Rotundus is justly considered a beautiful example of medieval book culture, not only due to its size but mainly due to its peculiar form. Containing 266 pages written in Latin and French, the manuscript is justly considered a unique example as both its cover and pages are cut in a circular shape, about 9cm in diameter.
The Codex Rotundus and its Beautiful Gothic Binding
The book binding is also very particular as it features 3 clasps shaped in the form of three different gothic letters. The commissioner of the manuscript is hinted at in f. 24r – the introduction to the Divine Office of the Holy Cross – bearing the initial D inside of which a coat of arms is represented, showing signs of erasure probably attempted by the following owner.
However, some details are still visible such as the reddish Cleves carbuncle, and a blue heart-shaped shield, for this reason it can be assumed that the first owner was the Count of Cleves and Mark.
The Count of Cleves and the Court of Burgundy
The Count of Cleves and Mark, Adolf, was strongly tied to the court of Burgundy; indeed, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy was his uncle and his cousin, Charles the Bold, appointed him to General Governor of the Netherlands in 1475. Additionally, he married Anna of Burgundy, illegitimate daughter of Philip the Good.
All of these ties to the Burgundian royalty explain why Adolf of Cleves and Mark had the book created in a workshop in Bruges and, especially, the extravagant choice of format and size, for the court of Burgundy had developed a strong and innovative book culture, renowned in all of Europe.
The clasps bear evidence to the commissioner of the work, for, despite being illegible, recall another manuscript from Adolf’s collection – Walters Art Gallery, W439 – inside of which there is a preserved painting of the coat of arms of the Count of Cleves and Mark.
The Painter of the Codex Rotundus
The round pages of the Codex Rotundus contain text, 3 full-page miniatures, and 30 historiated initials created by one of the most talented and renowned book painters of the Middle Ages, known as the painter of the Codex Rotundus.
His style and artistic skills echo the art of the Master of the Dresden Prayer Book, a renowned painter from the Bruges school, who collaborated with the painter of the Codex Rotundus at least on one occasion. It is likely that the artist behind the Codex Rotundus worked and trained in one of Bruges’ workshop of the Dresden master and was, therefore, inspired by their style.