Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Illuiminating the Epic: The Kassel 'Willehalm' Codex and the Landgraves of Hesse in the Early Fourteenth Century

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Illuiminating the Epic: The Kassel 'Willehalm' Codex and the Landgraves of Hesse in the Early Fourteenth Century

Article excerpt

Joan A. Holladay, Illuminating the Epic: The Kassel 'Willehalm' Codex and the Landgra7/es of Hesse in the Early Fourteenth Century, College Art Association Monograph on the Fine Arts 54 (Seattle; London: College Art Association; University of Washington Press, I 996). xi + 247 pp. ISBN 0-29 5-97 5 9 1-1. $50.00.

The Kassel manuscript is, from an artistic point of view, the most significant of the well-known group of large-format illustrated manuscripts of the Willehalm trilogy, most of which date from the fourteenth century. It was made in 1334 for Heinrich II, Landgrave of Hesse (1328-1376), and was planned to contain about 500 miniatures. Only the first 30 of these were completed by the artist. Twenty-eight further miniatures were left incomplete, and from fol. 56v to fol. 394' only the position of the blank spaces, and sometimes Latin or German instructions for the illuminator, indicate what was intended. Joan A. Holladay follows other recent scholars in placing the Willehalm Master in Cologne, and she associates his work with the illumination of a number of other manuscripts from the same period, in particular the so-called `Wettingen Gradual' in Aarau, the `Bodleian Sermologium' (MS Douce IH 85, part of a monastic office lectionary) and the Bible from Gro St Martin in Cologne, now in Dusseldorf.

The main part of the monograph consists of three essays. She begins with an analysis of the owner portrait of Landgrave Heinrich on the opening page. This is followed by an interpretation of the principles of selection that underlay the picture cycle as originally planned, in which the author seeks to present the choice of pictures as a manifestation of the political and familial interests of the landgraves of Hesse. Particular stress is given to the surmise that Heinrich may have regarded Willehalm as his ancestor, and to the parallels between Willehalm's disinheritance by his father and the recent family history of the Hessian landgraves after Landgrave Heinrich I divided his lands between the children from his first marriage and those of his second wife in l294. It is convincingly shown that the pictures stress the importance of familial relations and Willehalm's sanctity. The third chapter, entitled `Court and Context', is concerned to place the production of the manuscript in the context of the Kunstpolitik of the Hessian landgraves, drawing in particular on an interpretation of the political programme of the sculpted tombs in the Marburg Elisabethkirche, datable to the reign of Heinrich's father, Landgrave Otto, in the 13 zos, and on the stylistic associations of the illumination with manuscripts thought to have been made in Cologne. …

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