The Legendarium is one of the most beautiful and elegant Gothic manuscripts from Hungary. The codex, also known as Hungarian Angevin Legendary, was written and illuminated in the second quarter of the 14th century and with over 100 illuminated miniatures it represents a superb example of Hungarian medieval illumination.
Written in Latin, the Legendarium was created between 1330 and 1340 at the time when Charles I of Hungary and his son Prince Andrew travelled to Naples in 1330 to visit the royal family. Indeed, the manuscript contains a collection of saints’ stories which the Hungarian Angiò household was very fond of.
The Master of the Anjou Legendarium and the Bologna School
Although the artist behind the iconographic apparatus remains unknown, he was named – after this manuscript – Master of the Hungarian Legendarium. What seems certain is the artistic school that influenced the work, namely the Bologna school featuring the Trecento painting style.
The parchment leaves are decorated only on one side, each featuring 4 scenes divided by a frame or by decorative elements such as plant girali. The figures, showing very similar facial features, are depicted against a golden gleaming ground which sheds light to the miraculous scenes.
The sources that the artist uses for the miniatures are those most popular in the 14th century such as the life of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, and the martyrs. Additionally, of particular interest is the Legenda Aurea by Jacobus de Varagine, a collection of hagiographies.
Legendarium: a Children’s Book
Due to presence of short descriptive and narrative text located under the beautifully illuminated miniatures, it has been suggested that the Legendarium was a picture book to be used by children. It appears that the manuscript was commissioned by Charles I of Hungary as a gift to his son Prince Andrew, who at the time was only 3 years old.
One Manuscript, Multiple Locations
The manuscript in question – safely preserved in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana – is not complete as some additional leaves are kept separately in several other locations: 27 leaves in the Morgan Library, 5 in the Hermitage, and 1 in the Bancroft Library. The reason behind this division is that, at some point in 17th century, the manuscript was in the possession of one Giovanni Battista Saluzzo who separated the leaves in 4 different sections.
Elegant Example of Gothic Script
The manuscript exhibits an exquisite example of Gothic script, namely Gothic Textura. Typical of the script are the two forms of r, sharp, straight, angular lines, and bitings (overlapping bows are joined by an upright stroke).