The Gebetbuch Herzogs Johann Albrecht von Mecklenburg is one of the most interesting manuscripts of North Renaissance from Belgium and Germany, due to its varied iconographic content and its difficult history. The codex, also known as the Prayerbook of Duke Johann Albrecht of Mecklenburg, contains miniatures of different origin that were put together toward the end of the 16th century. With its 44 beautifully illuminated miniatures by different authors, and of different format and layout, this manuscript represents a rare combination of superb German and Flemish art.
Compendium of German and Flemish Painting
The iconographic apparatus of Prayerbook of Duke Johann Albrecht of Mecklenburg is certainly varied and diverse as it features both German and Flemish painting styles. More than half (23 miniatures) are by Simon Bening, 7 by Nicholas Glockendon, 6 by his brother Albrecht Glockendon, and finally, 3 are by the hand of Sebald Behams.
Interestingly, some miniatures were sewn onto the page whilst other were simply glued. Most of the miniatures are framed by delicate decorations featuring either colorful foliage and vine stems, or architectural structures.
Although, on the miniatures often appear the initials of the artists (helpful detail for the identification of the single artists), it has proven a difficult task to identify the manuscripts from which the single leaves were taken. Indeed, for some miniatures such as Lucretia and Tarquinius by Albrecht Glockendon (fol. 40), one is left to wonder whether it is intended for a book or as a single sheet, perhaps to be hanged on the wall.
Unfortunately in the actual state there is no conclusive meaning as to the sequence of the miniatures for the arrangement was changed in the course of the manuscript's difficult past.
Signs of Ownership
From the presence of 4 coat of arms we understand that there were at least two main owners: the first owner was Melchior Pfinzing, secretary of Emperor Maximilian, who died in 1535 (fol. 15); the other owner (to whom the other 3 coats of arms belong) is likely to be Albert of Brandenburg (1490-1545) – Elector and Archbishop of Mainz (1514-1545), Archbishop of Magdeburg (1513-1545), and an ambitious patron of the arts.
After his death, his possessions were passed onto his sister Anna who died in 1567 leaving all properties to her son Duke Johann Albrecht of Mecklenburg (1525-1576), whose name the manuscript bears. The duke is likely to have created this codex – as it looks in its present state – gathering additional leaves of different pictorial manuscripts which belonged to his uncle’s library.
Troubled History and Curiosities
This manuscript has certainly had a troubled past, for the miniatures went lost during the war, only to reappear in 1989 in the United States. A special feature of the Prayerbook of Duke Johann Albrecht of Mecklenburg are the remarks written by the Grimm brothers on the inside of the book front cover.
Beautiful Example of Gothic Script
Due to the origin of the manuscript, only short passages of text appear throughout. The codex exhibits an exquisite example of Gothic script, namely Gothic Textura. Typical of the script are the two forms of r, sharp, straight, and angular lines; furthermore, the base of the minims have applied feet that slant to the right.
The manuscript has kept its original binding, featuring white leather covers, and details in gold tooling, such as the year of production and the initials of Duke Johann Albrecht of Mecklenburg. The spine features 7 raised bands.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Prayer Book of John Albert I, Duke of Mecklenburg": Gebetbuch des Herzogs Johann Albrecht von Mecklenburg facsimile edition, published by Coron Verlag, 2006