(22) On When and Where

The Codex was found in 1838, in Count Gusztav Batthyany’s library from his Rohonc estate, after he donated his 30.000 books to the Hungarian Academy. The town is now called Rechnitz, is in Austria, close to the Hungarian border.

The inventory made in 1743 has one entry about a Hungarian prayers book, in one volume, size duodecimo (Magyar imádságok, volumen I. in 12.) It was thought to be about the CR. Even if the size and the content fits the Codex, it is hardly a conclusive identification, since it does not mention anything else (like the obvious unknown writing) and prayer books are usually small and handy.

The anchor and star watermark in the paper was identified in the Briquet catalog as characteristic for Italian paper produced in Venice in the first half of the 16th century. The paper could have been used later, though, or it could even be a knockoff, since Venetian paper was very popular.


With so little at hand, I started looking for clues in the drawings. Like the vase of lilies placed near the Madonna in the Annunciation scene, becoming popular in pictures from the 14th century.

page 16 Left

I gathered bits and pieces of such information until I noticed how particular is the picture of David praying to God. The particularity is that I could not find a match in any illuminated manuscript.

page 134 Left

Koninklijke Bibliotheek  has an excellent searchable archive of medieval manuscripts. None of them matched the CR drawing because, regardless of how similar were in other respects, in the illuminations God has a face.

Psalm 38 ('I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue'), Bible Historiale Complétée, fol. 256r, c. 1320-1340, from Koninlijke Bibliotheek

Psalm 38 (‘I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue’), Bible Historiale Complétée, fol. 256r, c. 1320-1340, from Koninklijke Bibliotheek

I turned to another excellent digital archive, this time of printed books, The Pitts Theology Library, which lists the search results chronologically (THANK YOU!). I looked up for both “David” and “Creation”.  What I found might be a good dating benchmark.

In the Middle Ages throughout the sixteenth century, in various representations God has a human form.  By the turn of the century a more symbolic depiction starts to be favored. He becomes a bright light.

Creation, Biblia, das ist, Die ganze Heilige Schrifft dess Alten und Neuen Testaments, c. 1600, from Pitts Theology Library

Creation, Biblia, das ist, Die ganze Heilige Schrifft dess Alten und Neuen Testaments, c. 1600, from Pitts Theology Library

Later, this symbolic representation is supplemented with the Tetragrammaton.

This is how it changes from the middle of the 16th century to the middle of the 17th century:

Creation, Historien und Bucher, Flavius Josephus, 1569, from Pitts Theology Library

Creation, Historien und Bucher, Flavius Josephus, 1569, from Pitts Theology Library

God appears twice, once in the clouds and second creating Eve.

A hundred years later, it looks a bit different.


Creation,  Biblia, das ist: Die gantze H. Schrifft, Altes und Neues Testaments teutsch, Martin Luther, 1670, from Pitts Theology Library

You can play “Where is Waldo” but you will not find the old man with a tiara. God is the three clouds with the Tetragrammaton inscribed.

It doesn’t mean that the figurative images of God have not been used anymore. But the trend of replacing the physical appearance with the sacred name became common for the books of both the Reformed and the Catholic faith.

Accordingly, the first engraving to be a good match  is from 1658.

King David, Bible. O.T. Psalms, 1658, from Pitts Theology Library

King David, Bible. O.T. Psalms, 1658, from Pitts Theology Library

I think it is safe to say that this type of representation became popular during the second half of the 17th century. Since the Codex from Rohonc is hardly a trendsetter, more like the copy of the copy of a copy, the end of the 17th – beginning of the 18th century is the earliest date when it could have been manufactured.

I know I saw only a figment of the “David praying to God” images and that my dating might be flawed. So, take it with a grain of salt. Or even better, please contribute with information.

This was my best answer for WHEN.

And here is the WHERE.

The drawings are definitely of Western Christian inspiration. In many of them Jesus appears blessing with the fingers clearly in the position specific for the Catholic church. Some of the motifs are recognizable North Western: the disappearing  feet, the Hellmouth. But there are undeniable Eastern influences too: Jesus with wings (on page 60 Right), the modified Nativity with the reclining Madonna (page 42 Left) or the Last Judgment (page 79 Right). And let’s not forget the possible Paulician or Bogomil influences: the two sided Trinity, the absence of the Virgin Mary from key scenes such as the Crucifixion, the Deposition, the Last Judgment.

It might look like I insist on the Eastern influences, but the Western tradition of the book is so obvious it seems pointless to stress it furthermore.

I have tried to find elements which could help narrow down the geographical area where the author might have lived.

I stopped at Moses. For two reasons. First, unlike in the vast majority of Western representations, in the Codex Moses has no horns.  And there is the inscription identifying him which I read “Moisi”, a variant I have seen in Eastern sources.

The horns on Moses’ forehead first appeared in 11th century English manuscripts and  “… became increasingly popular in the art of the Western Church. They were retained in England throughout the Middle Ages, spread through northern Europe during the twelfth through the fourteenth centuries, and seem to have reached Italy during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries… The Eastern Church had neither a horned Moses in text or art nor a horned mitre.” (The Horned Moses in Medieval Art and Thought by Ruth Mellinkoff, University of California Press, page 139).  The horns are later replaced with sprouting beams of light, and, in the general, some sort of outgrowth on his head remains significant in the Western European Art.

The author of the CR paid sufficient attention to details as to carefully draw the hand of Jesus in blessing with the fingers properly positioned for a true Catholic  benediction but missed the horns of Moses. Twice. In the drawings of the Tables of the Law (page 14 Right) and the Last Judgment (page 79 Right).

I am aware of the logical trap I am in. The identification of Moses in both drawings is problematic, and now  I rely on it to attribute an alleged Eastern influence.

Besides, here is this über-cool Moses in a German Bible. Notice the obsolete genitive in “…das dritte Buch Moysi…” – the third Book of Moses.

Moses writing the Leviticus, Bible, 1441-1449, from Universitats Bibliotheek Heidelberg

Moses writing the Leviticus, Bible, Alsace, 1441-1449, from Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg

Instead of getting into grammar issues (genitive vs. nominative) I rather shift attention to something else.

I thought about using architectural details as indicators of the possible area of origin. The buildings are tall and narrow in most of the drawings.

Ascension in the Codex from Rohonc and in the Hval Gospel

Annunciation in the Codex from Rohonc and in the Hval Gospel

The Annunciation scene from the CR and the Hval manuscript are so close in many respects, composition, architecture, decorations on the spires. The Hval illuminations are cathegorized as Dalmatian Gothic. Yey, I would say hurriedly,  the codex comes from Bosnia or Croatia: all those seemingly Cyrillic and Glagolitic letters, with the Bogomil church surviving in Bosnia until late, according to some well into the 19th century,  with the Batthyany’s historical ties to Croatia and Bosnia (several of Count Gustav Batthyany’s ancestors were governors).

As much as I like it and as well as it serves me, unfortunately I cannot rely on the drawings in this respect.

Let’s take the skyline of Jerusalem in the betrayal scene with all those spires adorned with crosses, stars and crescents

page 29 Right

page 29 Right

And now, look at the church painting from Aagerup, Denmark. The same vision of a Jewish city.

Temptation of Christ, Aegerup, from Mills-Kronborg Collection of Danish Church Paintings,

Temptation of Christ, Aagerup, from Mills-Kronborg Collection of Danish Church Paintings, MK 31-029

Basically, what I am saying is that I failed to find a conclusive element, one that can pinpoint the geographical area where the Codex might have been made.

I believe the drawings were copied and “adapted” from other books, more specific, from printed books. Maybe it was not as straightforward, maybe they were drawn from memory, or some of them were inspired by church paintings or icons. Regardless, the main sources of inspiration are books. Or books travel fast, and travel a lot. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, once printed, spread like wild fire. In two short weeks, they were all over Germany, within a couple of months, all over Europe.

Moreover, spreading the word of God was not only a matter of faith. It was also a business. And a very lucrative one. Painters, engravers, printers, traveled from country to country and as a consequence, themes, styles, schools, intermingled.

This amazing quote tells us just how far influences travel and how counter intuitive they might be:

“Cross pages ornamented with interlace designs are a feature of later Hiberno-Saxon manuscripts ( cf. the famous Book of Durrow, Dublin, Trinity College, Ms. 57) and Bober (1967) has suggested that the spectacular development of seventh-century Northumbrian art may have been based, in part, on Coptic sources.” (Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh …, edited by Kurt Weitzmann, page 494)

The Codex is a document that plays on strangeness. To understand it better, it should be established the author’s matrix, what is domestic from what is exotic. The fact that he preserved the Cyrillic letter for “I”, even if mirrored, makes me believe that he is at home in the Cyrillic alphabet. This letter has a double significance for him: it stands for the name Jesus in the Christogram and is the first letter in the author’s name. Also, the inverted “c” seems to stand for “S”, like in the Cyrillic alphabet. Sheer speculation, I know.

The cultural background revealed by the drawings seems to be that of a “melting pot”, maybe  a place where Western and Eastern Christianity meet, where the Cyrillic alphabet was in use.

I would say that its probable point of origin is somewhere along the line that goes from Belorussia through Ukraine down to Bosnia and Albania. That means, Transylvania is included. There, I said it. I brought it home.

This entry was posted in Codex Rohonc, Rohonczi. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to (22) On When and Where

  1. Cornel Airinei says:

    Salut Delia! Acum am descoperit blogul tau care este extraordinar! M-a preocupat si pe mine descifrarea acestui manuscris si cred ca am descoperit cheia lui si am tradus cateva pagini!… Ma gasesti pe Facebook si mi-ar face o mare placere sa discutam despre Codex!

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