Conservation around the Millennium (Hungarian National Museum, 2001)

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DATA ON THE BINDINGS OF KING MATTHIAS'S CODICES Ildikó Beöthy-Kozocsa SCOPE OF COLLECTION OF THE LIBRARY AND THE CHARACTERISTICS OF CORVINA BINDINGS In the 15th century, King Matthias’s (1440-1490) library was one of the greatest book collections in Europe. It represented the highest standards in its content as well. The succeeding generations could only guess at the number of the volumes of the collection, which was composed with great care. It used to be estimated to over ten thousand but recent research has reduced this number to about two thousand and five hundred. Regarding its scope of collection, Bibliotheca Corviniana contained works by medieval scholastic writers, classical Latin and Greek authors, contemporary humanists, works on religious topic, and also the latest books on architecture, science, astronomy and military science. Matthias collected mainly manuscripts, but he also had some printed books in his collection and we even know about works written in Hungarian but none of the latter have survived. Beside the activity of the codex copying workshop in Buda, the library was enriched by the systematic and professional collecting work of learned humanists. Matthias not only founded the collection, he also read and inspired several works. He was a learned humanist, who bequeathed a rich correspondence in Latin. Taddeo Ugoleto Matthias’s librarian and János Corvin’s (the son of King Mathias) teacher had the greatest merits in the development of the library. The furnishing of the library, which is known first of all from Naldo Naldi’s appraising poems, can be dated from his time. The room of the library was located beside the royal chapel on the second floor in the eastern side of the castle of Buda, facing the Danube. Later yet another room was attached to it. The king’s sofa, covered with golden cloth, stood between the two windows. Gilded shelves were placed against the walls in three rows. The codices, arranged according to topics, lay on their front boards on the shelves. Coloured curtains protected the volumes from dust. The rest of the books were kept in closed, carved cases under the shelves. It was Ugoleto’s idea to furnish the corvinas with coats of arms. The two distinctive elements of most of the codices are the coats of arms of Matthias or Beatrix his wife and the characteristic so-called corvina binding. Corvina bindings are regarded as a special branch of book bindings in Hungary as well as in Europe. Beside bindings decorated with gilded coats of arms, sometimes with painted ornaments, leather onlay and gauffering, some books were furnished with buckles and mounts on coloured silk or velvet covers. The painting of the edge of the books with rich floral ornaments, the letters of the title and gilding are characteristic ornamental elements of these books. Corvina leather binding is a typical Hungarian renaissance style. Its elements originate from three sources: gothic and renaissance ornamental elements and eastern influences. Renaissance boards show a central arrangement with circles or other geometrical formal elements in the centre. Some boards are decorated with headcaps, which is a sign of eastern taste. Gilding, in a unique way in contemporary Europe, was applied on the entire surface of the boards. The inside of the board is framed on corvina bindings with interlaced work made by blind tooling. The characteristic corvina bindings do not have antecedents in the 105