• Sale 1550

    Valuable Manuscripts and Printed Books

    21 May 2014, London, King Street

  • Lot 5

    AN ASTROLOGICAL AND FORTUNE-TELLING MANUSCRIPT, in German, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM, [southern Germany, possibly Augsburg, c.1450].

    Price Realised  

    AN ASTROLOGICAL AND FORTUNE-TELLING MANUSCRIPT, in German, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM, [southern Germany, possibly Augsburg, c.1450].

    115 x 85mm. 46 leaves + 3 fold-out tables, COMPLETE, 17 lines written in a fine gothic textura in black ink, ONE LARGE PENWORK INITIAL in red and blue, calendar with KL monograms in red or blue and TWELVE ILLUMINATED MEDALLIONS illustrating the signs of the zodiac, THREE FOLD-OUT TABLES containing predictive devices for fortune-telling and prognostication, THREE CIRCULAR DIAGRAMS for soothsaying and predictions (some marginal soiling, f.21 with a small tear to inner margin not affecting text). Contemporary blind-stamped stained pigskin over wooden boards, brass clasp (spine repaired, light scuffing).

    PROVENANCE:
    The calendar, script and illumination point to an origin in southern Germany in the mid-15th century. The binding is German, and contemporary, but other than modern price inscriptions on the upper cover, there is no explicit sign of ownership.

    CONTENT:
    Fold-out table of the ‘Wurffel tafel’ or ‘Game of Dice’ f.i; Calendar ff.1-12v; Fold-out tables (recto-verso) of the ‘Tzeiche ey icklick liecht’, giving a list of the zodiac constellations and their influences on Man’s well-being and ‘das underfest [...] was die gulden tzale sij’, with the basics and definition of the ‘Golden Number’ and its significance in chronology f.ii; Discussions on medical astrology (lathromathematics), hygiene and character analysis ff.13-40: the seven known planets ff.13-16v, the effects of meteorology on health and character ff.17-24, the meteorological characteristics of all twelve months of the year, along with their associated effect on the physiology and behavioural patterns of humans born during each one of the twelve zodiac cycles ff.24-40; Diagrams for soothsaying and predictions, with explanatory comments and codification to find associated answers. The first diagram establishes which partner of a married couple will survive the other; the second predicts days of illness, the probability of death and the chances of safe return from a journey; the third determines which of two combatants will come out victorious ff.40-46; Fold-out table allowing for a calculation of the most favourable times to perform certain activities f.iii.

    AN EXTREMELY RARE GERMAN MEDIEVAL MANUAL ON DIVINATION AND ASTROLOGICAL COMPUTATION

    Of particular interest in the present manuscript are the three fold-out tables: the first, the ‘Wurffel tafel’, or the ‘Game-of-Dice’ table, to be played with two dice and complete with detailed instructions, is an early incarnation of the tables featured in Lottery-Books of the 16th century; the second table deals with the influence of the constellations on Man’s well-being, and describes the phases of the moon and the Metonic cycle; the third and last enables the reader to calculate the most favourable time to perform specific activities. It begins with ‘Kynde entwene’, the Weaning of Children, followed by a list of activities — such as, among others, taking a bath, having an argument, buying and selling commodities, exercising with weapons, taking medicine, getting a hair-cut, blood-letting or arranging a party — with the associated opportune time to perform said commitments. A comparable compilation of texts can be found in another contemporary German manuscript now in Edinburgh University Library, D.b.V.19.

    Few such prognostication texts survive, and the present manuscript provides an exceptional insight into the medieval fascination with fortune-telling and the effects of chance and the positions of the planets and constellations on Man’s vicissitudes, destiny and fate. Among the principal exponents of these disciplines in medieval Germany were Johannes Müller von Königsberg (1436 – 1476), or Regiomontanus, mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, translator, instrument maker and Catholic bishop, famed for his horoscopes and his Tabulae directionum, and Konrad Bollstatter (c.1420s- 1482/1483), professional scribe from Augsburg, employed in chancelleries in Öttingen and Höchstädt and responsible for a series of divination texts and devices throughout the 1450s (see, for example, Wolfenbüttel Cod. Guelf. 75.10 Aug. 2°). Such was the widespread interest in divination in 15th-century Germany that the Church conducted a thorough investigation on ‘the magic and superstitious practices in vogue’, with Dionysius the Carthusian recording his findings in Contra vitia superstitionum. In 1456, Johannes Hartlieb (c. 1410 – 1468), Bavarian physician in the employ of Louis VII of Bavaria and Albert VI of Austria completed his Puch aller verpoten kunst, ungelaubens und der zaubrey (Book on all forbidden arts, superstition and sorcery), a polemic against all divinatory methods and devices, which also describes them in great detail (see E. Wade, ‘A Fragmentary German Divination Device: Medieval Analogues and Pesudo-Lullian Tradition’, Conjuring Spirits, 1998, pp.87-109).

    The present manuscript encapsulates these concerns to reveal a vivid picture of the notions, traditions and mindset of a burgeoning, civic-oriented, bourgeois society during the waning Middle Ages.


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