Bumper book of medieval adventure in 549 full-colour frames

One of the treasures that popped out among the 64 items digitized so far this week by the BAV, the historic research library at the Vatican in Rome, is the Hungarian Angevin Legendary. It's an astonishing, comic-book style compilation of lives of saints full of gold and silver and technicolor gore. According to fellow blogger Zsombor Jékely, there are 549 known frames.

Here's my namesake John the Baptist being frogmarched by Herod's goons into the palace to have his head chopped off (folio 5r). Each of these pictures rewards many minutes of rapt attention. The Legendary was full of compelling visual storytelling techniques. Add a few speech bubbles and you would have a modern graphic novel. With some Ken Burns effects, many of the pages could easily be turned into some very impressive video.

The old story goes that this amazing book was commissioned to delight a spoiled 3-year-old Hungarian prince in about 1340, but that is probably a misconception. In all likelihood this was a strictly adult book, probably commissioned by or for the daddy king himself.

Like too many of the best codices, this one has been criminally dismembered. The BAV has the bulk of it, in the form of Vat. Lat. 8541, which you can now admire online (click the link at left). Quite a bit more is at the Morgan Library in New York (click the link and check out 22r which shows a headless body being dumped down a well). Jékely says there are also bits at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, MS 1994.516 (1 leaf),  Berkeley's Bancroft Library, BANC MS UCB 130:f1300:37 (1 leaf) and further leaves at the Hermitage and at the Louvre.

This is just one of the many good things to explore on the BAV website. Here is my tally of what is new: Arch. Cap. S. Pietro: 19; Barb. gr.: 2; Borgh.: 10; Chig.: 1; Ott. lat.: 2; Reg. lat.: 3; Sire.: 1; Urb. lat.: 1; Vat. ebr.: 10, Vat. estr. or.: 10; Vat. gr. 1; Vat. lat.: 3; Vat. turc.: 1. The total of manuscripts digitized now stands at 1,690. [This is Piggin's Unofficial List 2.]

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