The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville

On Christmas Day in AD800 the Merovingian Ruler Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope. If reports are to be believed, the crowning was unexpected and reluctant. After the Carolingian dynasty the office passed to other European nobility, principally the Germanic kings and other aristocrats. The title was abolished in the reign of the then Emperor Francis I, consequential on the defeat of the Austrians at Austerlitz by Napoleon in 1806.

The office had varying degrees of influence and authority, with much internal feuding. However, in the renaissance reign of the Emperor Rudolf II there was established in Prague, the greatest patronage of the arts in the world at that time. One of the most remarkable documents to emanate from this hothouse of the arts was a work entitled - Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta (a Model Book of Calligraphy). This work exists today, having been purchased for the J Paul Getty Foundation in California.

The work was produced by two persons who never met each other and who each completed material, though separated by 15 years. In 1561/2 a scribe of genius called Georg Bocksay created this Model Book of Calligraphy, using a variety of scripts (Italic, Gothic, Humanist, Chancery, Antiqua and others) to produce a flamboyant and totally splendid description of natural flora and fauna known at the time. There were 128 folios on high quality vellum of flowers, fruits, insects, small animals and other naturally occurring wildlife.

After Bocksay’s death, a distinguished illuminator called Joris Hoefnagel (1542-1601) embellished the text with the most exquisite drawings and paintings with unrivalled accuracy. The result is a work of unsurpassing beauty from the Court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, and it is disappointing that it is not more widely known and studied.

Rod Dawson

Christmas & New Year 2015/6

A Model Book of Calligraphy