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Dresden Corvinas

Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus (reign 1458–1490) owned one of the largest and most important Renaissance book collections. In 2005 the 216 Corvinas still existing in 52 public and private libraries all over the world were inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

Two of the items are manuscripts kept by the Saxon State and University Library in Dresden:

  • The war specific reference book De re militari, which Rimini-born engineer Robertus Valturius (1405–1475) had written for Sigismondo Malatesta (shelf number Mscr.Dresd.R.28.m)
  • Marcus Tullius Cicero’s Epistulae ad familiares (shelf number Mscr. Dresd.Dc.115)

De re militari, Robertus Valturius, Mscr. Dresd. R 28 mBoth items became part of the Dresden Electoral Library in the eighteenth century. Saxon electoral prince Frederick Christian brought along the Valturius manuscript on his return trip from Italy to Dresden in 1740. Librarian Johann Christian Goetze distinguished the codex as exceedingly valuable and sumptuous in the first volume of his Memorabilia from the Dresden Royal Library (1743). The manuscript, which consists of 231 parchment leaves (size 365 x 260 mm), had been copied in Naples between 1476 and 1484 from the work’s first printed edition (Verona, 1472). Executed in the print as simple outline woodcuts, the approximately 100 illustrations of weapons, tools and machines for ground and naval warfare were carried out in the manuscript as splendidly framed miniatures in opaque colours and gold. The Valturius codex was newly bound in pigskin in the seventeenth century.

By contrast, the Cicero manuscript, which is also of Italian origin and dates from around 1460/70, still features its original tracery binding (260 x 180 mm) made in a Buda workshop of blind-stamped and hand-gilded auburn morocco leather on wooden boards. The centre of both the front and back covers displays Matthias Corvinus’ royal coat of arms. As typical, the upper margin of the back cover bears a work title (CICERO AD LENTVLVM). In the preface to his edition of Cicero’s letters (Leipzig, 1790/95), Traugott Friedrich Alexander Benedict emphasized the manuscript’s philological significance.

Kept in the subcellar of the Japanese Palace, both manuscripts were profoundly damaged in the 1945 bombings of Dresden by infiltrating water and subsequent microbiological processes. The parchment has become inflexible, deformed and in part disintegrated, the writing has partially faded, the colours occasionally are washed out.

Pergamentdoppelblatt während der Konditionierung im SpannrahmenDetailed restoration schemes have been prepared for both items. Several manuscript leaves have been restored on an individual basis by SLUB conservation team.

A parchment repair procedure developed in Dresden for the infilling of large missing areas will make it possible to secure even fragmentary leaves and to restore them retaining all existing original material in a defined atmospheric environment.