The Nibelungelied manuscript, also known as the Donaueschingen, Fürstlich Fürstenbergische Hofbibliothek, Ms. 63, is one of the most exquisite examples of Gothic illumination from the German area. The manuscript was written and illuminated in the second quarter of the 13th century and it contains a version of the song of the Nibelungs, an epic poem produced by an anonymous poem between the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century, in the area of Passau.
The manuscript tells the story of a dragon slayer who went by the name of Siegfried at the court of Burgundy, it recounts his murder and how his wife Kriemhild avenged her husband’s death. The story echoes Germanic heroic motifs from the pre-Christian era.
Mirror inverted initials and Fleuronée style
The iconography of the manuscript features several initials which are mirror inverted such as the initial u on fol. 1r., indicating a mechanical copying of a template. At the beginning of the Aventiuren are two-color silhouettes initials in blue and red with rounded shafts (ex. fol. 70r.).
Towards the end of the book the characteristic extensions of the initials (ex. fol. 20v., 22v., 31r., 41v., 50v.) tend to be ornamented with fleuronnée in modern style (ex. fol. 76v., 79r.). The rubrics complement the aesthetic overall picture, with the majuscules – varying with ornamental strokes and arcs – usually red in the beginning of strophes.
Nibelungenlied and Klage (an appendix to the main text) are iconographically adapted in such a way that one can speak of a graphic unit. The 'complaint' begins on fol. 89r. immediately after the 'Nibelungenlied'.
Nibelungelied formerly known as Hohenems-Laßberg manuscript
In the 15th century the manuscript was owned by Heinrich Durricher. The codex was later known as Hohenems-Laßberg's manuscript, for in 1815 the collector, historian and early Germanist Joseph Freiherr von Laßberg (1770-1855) acquired the manuscript in Vienna.
Joseph von Laßberg had at that time accompanied Princess Elisabeth zu Fürstenberg (1767-1822) to the Vienna Congress, to which he owed the financial resources for the acquisition of the manuscript. The first page of the manuscript is adorned by Laßberg's ex-libris.
Superb Example of Early Gothic Minuscule
The manuscript is based on the linguistic features of the Alemannian-Bavarian region. The scribe adopted an early Gothic minuscule which recalls contemporary calligraphic records. The relatively good parchment was transcribed evenly from the beginning to the end by a single clerk at a high level of calligraphy.
We have 2 facsimiles of the manuscript "Nibelungenlied":
- Das Nibelungenlied facsimile edition published by Phaidon Press, 1968
- Das Nibelungenlied und Die Klage: Handschrift C der F.F. Hofbibliothek Donaueschingen facsimile edition published by Mueller & Schindler, 1968