Friday, March 28, 2014

O Fortuna (in digital facsimile)

This week, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek released a digital facsimile of Clm 4660, best known as the Carmina Burana. The manuscript is described in several recent BSB catalogs, including catalogs from 1994, 1998, and 2000. The manuscript opens with a great illustration of the Wheel of Fortune, a concept that I've needed to introduce to students when teaching medieval and early modern literature but also when teaching nineteenth-century literature. It's relevant to Gottfried Keller's Kleider machen Leute, for example.

Having an online facsimile of the Carmina Burana is nice, as it now gives me an almost plausible excuse to play Orff in class. It also raises the question: What other medieval and early modern depictions of the Wheel of Fortune are available in online facsimile - that is, embedded in their original context and with supporting scholarly apparatus? Google image search will give you lots of examples, but what if you want to know about an image's source?

First, here's Clm 4660.

Another of my favorites is from Wenzel Faber von Budweis's practica for 1490 (GW 9595/ISTC if00005440), which ties changing human fortunes to astronomical cycles.

The Wheel of Fortune shows up in some odd ways in title page illustrations for several of Johannes Virdung's practicas, but the only one with an online facsimile is his practica for 1523 (VD16 V 1280). In this illustration, either Aries is accidentally placed, or the zodiacal ram is the one turning the wheel.

Matthias Brotbeihel's practica for 1544 (VD16 B 8424) includes on its title page what looks like a Wheel of Fortune held by a divine arm and with four eclipses mounted on it.

The text to the side reads:
Ich bin der alle ding regiert
Mich im Regiment niemands irrt /
Das glückrad hab ich in meinr händ
Nach meinem willen ich das wänd.

("I am the one who rules all things. No can move my governing from its course. I hold the wheel of fortune in my hand and turn it according to my will.")
The humanist Jakob Henrichmann's 1509 parody prognostication (VD16 H 2041) features a woodcut that looks to me like a parody of the Wheel of Fortune.

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