The Krumlov Picture Codex is also known as liber depictus (painted book), because of its unusually rich pictorial decoration and due to an inscription on the title page. It is among the most precious manuscripts kept in the Austrian National Library to where it passed during the course of the Church reform under Joseph II which led to the dissolution of numerous monasteries.
On a total of 172 parchment pages, the codex contains a Biblia Pauperum (Bible of the Poor), various lives of saints and some narratives of a didactic character. Rather than being conceived as a scribal work to be illustrated at a later date, it was designed as a picture book whose contents are briefly explained in the picture titles. The numerous pen drawings executed by three different masters convey the religious contents in a devotional manner. The pious beholder may thus sink into the history of salvation with emphatic sensation and comprehend it rather with his heart than by reason.
The Krumlov Picture Codex is probably the work of a team of artists active in the Minorite monastery of Krumlov and was destined for use in the monastery itself. It was intended as a book of education for the lower clergy, emphasising the picture rather than the word. This helped provide deeper satisfaction of the religious needs of this period than would have been possible with a mere text book.
An edifying picture book
The pictures in the Krumlov Codex are pen drawings, a technique which at the beginning of the 14th century was widespread throughout Europe, where it was mainly used for text books and scholarly manuscripts. These pen drawings were executed by three different hands which in spite of idiosyncrasies in style have created a harmonious ensemble. They illustrate the narrative in all detail, in a very lively and natural manner, truly exemplifying the pictorial effect of the liber depictus.
The picture sequences arranged above each other in two or three strips, are explained in brief passages of Latin text which accompany the illustrated narrative in the form of headlines. They were written by six different individuals in gothic minuscule and rarely occupy more than one line. Occasionally, pictures contain supplementary information, such as the name of a person, and also sentences in direct speech making the involved figures speak just like in modern comic strips.
The Biblia Pauperum
The Biblia Pauperum probably goes back to the mid-13th century and belongs to the typological writings of the late Middle Ages, which relate the entire cycle of the life and Passion of Christ. In three miniatures, scenes from the Old and the New Testament are paired, each individual miniature containing scenes from the Old Testament (types) which are framed by an episode of the New Testament (anti-types). The types of the Old Testament may be considered as a symbolic anticipation of the New Testament anti-types, whereas the latter are in turn understood as belated confirmation of the former.
An excellent source for historians and art historians alike
Valuable reference to the date and place of origin of the Krumlov Picture Codex is found in the three full-page miniatures. The frontispiece with a depiction of the Virgin as apocalyptic sun bride and the depiction of the Transfiguration (fol. 156r) establishes a direct relationship to the consecration of the Minorite monastery at Krumlov which was inaugurated in 1358 ”in honore corporis et Virginis Mariae”. The frontispiece also marks a decisive turn in medieval religious thinking, from speculative to visionary piousness, from the abstract to the concrete.
Such a vivid picture book was less bound to convey concrete information than conceptual ideas of edifying episodes. Emphasising the picture over the written word, it was not only a piece of religious art destined for the lower, illiterate classes of the population but also meant to more deeply satisfy the religious needs of the noble and monastic circles of that period.