Blog Subscription via

July 12, 2011

Judge Arthur Tompkins on The Codex Aureus of Lorsch and the De Arte Venandi in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Part III)

by Judge Arthur Tompkins, ARCA Lecturer and blog contributor

It turned out to be a much smaller, slimmer volume that the Codex Aureus. But it too is missing the coat of arms and the inscription! Instead, there appears on the opening leaf the commonly encountered oval and/or circular "Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana" stamps, and the handwritten pencil inscription “Facs Bav Pal. Lat. 1071 [1969.2] Concs."

This version is a copy of the original manuscript by Frederick II, which was lost in 1248 during a siege of Parma. Copies of the original exist in two-volume and six-volume versions – the Vatican’s copy is in the former category.

The facsimiles of the opening leaves show clearly been reasonable extensive damage around the edges. All the pages are written in dense, small, text, in two columns ending about two thirds down each page, and each block of text on each page is surrounded by a profusion of pictures of birds of all kinds, flying, walking, wading, and occasionally swimming. Every now and then a human falconer or a hunter appears, but infrequently in the first section of the volume. A few of the illustrations of birds have handwritten labels appended to them (by son Manfred?). There are is one picture of two dogs, which look like greyhounds, savaging a fallen deer .

Towards the back of the volume, more numerous falconers appear, one with a startlingly red hat on, and others with similarly coloured red tunics, showing the correct way to carry birds, to hold them in preparation for flight, to secure them to their perches or on transportable field stands.

In one memorable picture, a falconer is shown having discarded his clothes in a heap, and is taking a naked dip in a pond (retaining his hat, presumably for modesty’s sake) as he is watched by two bemused ducks.

There are a few uncoloured line drawings, some showing how to bath a falcon in a small basin.

The back inside cover of the volume bears the printed inscription (in German as well as English):

First edition 1000 copies.
Binding: Graphic K.G. – Graz – Printed n Austria
Text and plates: Akademische Druck – u. Verlagsanstalt – Graz
And on a separate sticker at the top of the inside cover, the information:
Facs.Bav. Pal.lat1071[1969:1-2]. Cons. (1969:2)
Friedrich II imperatore del Sacro romano impero e re di Sicilia, 1194-1250
De arte venandi cum avibus, ms, pal, lat 1071
Bibkioteca apostolica vaticana.
Pubblicazione: 1969
After completing my inspection of my second volume, but before I returned it and perforce ended my visit, I went on a slightly nervous wander. I was interested to see if anyone would accost me, arrest me, and forcibly remove me from the premises and the City State. It turns out that I had been working in one of two connected rooms, labelled Sala Manoscritti 1 and 2, and I was able, without being apprehended or stopped, to walk elsewhere in the complex of interlinked reading rooms. The Manuscripts Reading Room was by far the most fully occupied. For most of the time I was there, there were only a handful of spare seats.

Next to this, is a Room referred to in the Rules as the Inventory room. The Rules told me that it was forbidden to take manuscripts out of my room into this adjacent, much less stylish and indeed almost blandly functional, and in it the tables were mostly unoccupied.

The Sale Leonine
Adjacent to these two rooms, and connected to it by the entrance foyer containing a large rococo gilded table with a marble top, was a far longer and grander reading room, about three or four times the length of the one I had been in, containing many more multiple-seat reading tables, with around its walls tall shelves of printed books and, in a neighbouring narrow area running the length of the main room, banks of card catalogues. This room overlooked the Cortile de Belvedere, through which I had walked to gain my initial entry. This room is called the Sale Leonine, and features a significantly frescoed ceiling, with many Popes’ names featuring.

During my walks, executed with pencil in hand, and with a studious expression on my face, I spotted on a wall a floor plan which revealed that manuscripts with the shelf mark "Palatinato" (referring to the books taken from the Bibliotheca Palatina) were only available in the main Manuscript Reading Room, on request. The same floor plan also revealed that, down some stairs and off somewhere else there existed a space invitingly labelled with the word, “Bar”. More of that in a moment. But, also on the same floor plan, there appears, in the bottom right corner in an otherwise blank area, the words "Archivo Segreto” – much like old maps used to have the words, “There be dragons…”. Equally if not more inviting, but my Rules told me that “in order to access the Secret Archives from the Library, or visa versa, the main entrance of each of the two Institutions must be used.” So I guess that I best not try to go there ….

And indeed it turns out that the Vatican Library has a Bar. Who would have thought? After checking with the same helpful librarian who had, upon my arrival steered me safely in the direction of the Manuscript Reading Room, that I would not set off any alarms or be locked forever on the outside, I discovered that one exits into a large internal Courtyard (Cortile della Biblioteca), crosses this, (in the by no fiercely hot sun), and ascends a narrow, almost hidden staircase, into a small room which seems to have been created out of a ruined apse of a Romanesque church, with the ruined walls and partially broken semi-circular apse, with rough niches, still very much in evidence. Opposite the broken apse was a small counter, an automated coffee machine, and a couple of hot plates for heating pre-prepared paninis. Here, I had my lunch – a tepid coffee served in a flimsy plastic cup, and a dry, reheated ham and cheese Panini. But hey, it was my Vatican Library lunch …!

And so my visit to the Vatican library drew to a close. I returned my second volume, gathered my belongings and, reversing the process I had followed upon arrival and with a backward glance of regret and longing, I quit the Vatican Library. Happily, I get to keep my magnetised swipe card.

A most memorable occasion in pretty much every respect. Perhaps on a return visit I will get to see the original manuscripts, presumably under even stricter supervision, and solve the mystery of the missing coat of arms and inscription.