Produced in the Castilian royal scriptorium in the second half of the thirteenth century, this luxuriously decorated lapidary (“treatise on stones”) made for Alfonso X the Wise, King of Castile and Leon (1221-84), is unique in both style and content. As the diverse source texts to the lapidary demonstrate, Alfonso’s court brought together Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars for the free exchange of scholarly texts and scientific advancements. Over 600 fully-colored miniatures and historiated initials grace the folios of this manuscript.
The Lapidario del Rey Alfonso X contains four separate lapidary texts written in Castilian. Each of these treatises offers stunning visuals and precise textual descriptions on the properties of the included stones: where to find them, their related virtues, and, uniquely for this period, the celestial bodies that rule and bind them to the earth.
De Luxe Miniatures
Gorgeous miniatures in hues of pink, red, blue (lapis lazuli), green, and gold are found on every page of this codex. The first folio depicts Aristotle indoctrinating a number of scholars ready to receive the wisdom of the lapidary, and vibrant zodiac representations follow in the coming folios.
While most medieval lapidaries do not openly associate the properties of the stones with the influence of celestial bodies, Alfonso’s lapidary makes this connection explicit in both text and image. (Each of the 12 signs rule over 30 stones in the first text, therefore including 360 stones.)
In addition to the zodiac illustrations, each historiated initial offers a scene of stone extraction and then subsequent usage by medieval sages. The style of illustration bears a close resemblance to those of Alfonso’s contemporary Astrology Book of Knowledge (ca. 1276), though the grotesque drolleries in the margins are unique to this manuscript.
A Precise and Professional Hand
Alfonso’s Lapidary is written in two columns in a small but professional Gothic Rotunda script, though occasionally the scribe experiments with a more formal Semiquadrata and Quadrata script.
Each stone description is prefaced with a rubric in either blue or red. The margins of the page, while significant, have been filled with gorgeous illustrations.
A Royal Bequeathal
Alfonso the Wise was known for translating his scholarly interests into luxury objects, and, as such, his de luxe books have been well-preserved. Passed from king to king, Alfonso’s lapidary was given to the royal library at El Escorial by King Felipe II (1527-98) from the library of Don Diego de Mendoza.