Limited to 900 hand-numbered copies with 30 reserved for The Folio Society
The Travels of Jean de Mandeville, as preserved as part of the Bibliothèque nationale de France's magnificent Book of Marvels, is an outstanding masterpiece, created at the absolute highpoint of French book illumination at the beginning of the 15th century. Commissioned and owned by the most discerning bibliophiles of the period, this volume unites one of the most unusual and captivating texts of the Middle Ages with some of the greatest miniaturists of the day, and is now available for the first time in a stunning facsimile produced by distinguished publishers Müller and Schindler.
Facsimile published by Müller & Schindler
Strictly limited to 900 hand-numbered copies with 30 reserved for The Folio Society
The Travels of Jean de Mandeville is a unique and extraordinary text – a combination of guidebook, ethnographic commentary, and outright fantasy about distant curiosities that mixes the religious and the profane, the historical and the legendary, the mundane and the marvellous. Starting out as a handbook for pilgrims to the Holy Land, Mandeville leads us into Egypt, Asia, the islands of the Indian Ocean and parts of Africa before finally heading into increasingly exotic and even imaginary parts of the world. Evocative descriptions of customs at the court of the Sultan in Cairo and the Great Khan in China sit alongside claims to have drunk from a fountain of youth and descriptions of giants and pygmies, cannibals and hermaphrodites, headless humans and men who live only on the smell of apples.
With its descriptions of far-off lands and fantastic beasts, and its mixture of the sacred, the secular and the scientific, The Travels of Jean de Mandeville is an illustrator's dream come true. From its opening page, a large-scale depiction of de Mandeville setting out on his voyage, the text is lavishly decorated with 74 radiant miniatures, each framed with gold for maximum impact. These stunning images were created by some of the most talented and famous artists of the era: the Master of the Mazarine Hours, renowned for his luminous colours, the Bedford Master, celebrated for the luxurious opulence of his work, the Egerton Master, notable for his rocky landscapes and powerful figures, and the Master of the Cité des Dames, an expert in scenes of daily life. Striving to match the increasingly bizarre content of The Travels, these artists pushed their technical ability and their artistic imaginations to the limit, bringing an intensely detailed realism even to the most unrealistic scenes that de Mandeville describes - an amorous king opening his dead wife's tomb to sleep with her, babies offered as sacrifices to hungry dragons, trees hung with the bodies of the sick, and fruit that contains tiny animals instead of stones.
The text, written in around 1360, is presented as the eyewitness testimony of Jean de Mandeville, an English knight born in St. Albans, who claims to have set out on his travels in 1322 and returned home over thirty years later in 1356. Scholars have now established that it is in fact a compilation, drawing heavily on William of Boldensele's Book of certain overseas regions (1336) and Friar Odoric of Pordenone's Relatio (1330) and carefully combining these accounts of foreign travels with extracts from several other religious, scientific and literary sources written in the 14th century. It is also now generally agreed that a real Jean de Mandeville never existed and the question of who wrote The Travels remains unresolved – candidates include Jean d'Outremeuse, a notary from the Belgian town of Liège, a physician named Jean de Bourgogne, who claimed on his deathbed to have been its author, and Jean le Long d’Ypres, a Benedictine monk known to have produced French translations of many of The Travels’ key sources in the 1350s.
Unsurprisingly, The Travels was a medieval bestseller, and is preserved today in over 250 manuscript copies written in French, English, Latin, German, Italian, Czech, Danish, Dutch and even Irish. Its unique mixture of fact and fantasy seems only to have increased its reputation and influence: its assertion that it was possible to circumnavigate the globe helped convince Christopher Columbus to attempt this feat, and the earliest surviving European globe, made in Nuremberg in 1492, cites Mandeville as an authority; Leonardo da Vinci kept a copy of The Travels in his library and the 16th century explorer Martin Frobisher consulted it in his search for the North West Passage; and its imaginative scope has inspired writers as diverse as Geoffrey Chaucer, Jonathan Swift and Umberto Eco.
The Book of Marvels that contains The Travels of Jean de Mandeville was commissioned by John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, and created between 1410 and 1412. In January 1413, shortly after its completion, John presented the manuscript as a diplomatic New Year's gift to his uncle Jean, Duc de Berry, one of the greatest patrons and book collectors of his day. He bequeathed it to his daughter Bonne de Berry and her husband Bernard VII of Armagnac. It remained in the d’Armagnac family until 1477, when Jean, Duc de Berry’s great-grandson Jacques d’Armagnac was arrested and executed for treason and his library was dispersed. The Book of Marvels later came into the possession of Charles d’Angoulême, and through his son, Francis I of France, became part of the Royal Library. Today the book is one of the great treasures of the manuscript department of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, where it resides under the shelfmark Français 2810.
This meticulous facsimile precisely reproduces every feature of the original manuscript, capturing the vibrant colours and subtle details of the illustrations and the exquisite Gothic Textura script of the Middle French text. Gold, treated to reflect the patina of age, recreates the lavish gilding that appears in the pictures and in their frames, the ornate initials and the delicate stylised vine-stem border that weaves around the illustrations and text. Each page has been die-cut from pergamenata replicating not only the exact shape, but also the feel of the parchment original. The pages have been sewn by hand before being bound in sumptuous calfskin leather, decorated with intricate gold blocking on the front board and edges.
Accompanying the manuscript is a comprehensive commentary volume, edited by Professor Eberhard König and with essays from leading experts on 15th-century illustrated manuscripts Gabriele Bartz, Dieter Röschel and Siegbert Himmelsbach. It includes a full translation of the text, a thorough history of the manuscript, and an in-depth analysis of the illustrations and the artists who created them.
The facsimile and commentary are protected by a gold-blocked presentation box, and the set has been strictly limited to 900 hand-numbered copies, 30 of which have been reserved for the Folio Society.
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