Een lied voor elk seizoen : de Carmina Burana in beeld

C.J.M. Couwenberg

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


Picturing the Carmina Burana This art-historical study focuses on the miniatures in the Carmina Burana manuscript or Codex Buranus (c.1230), which are analysed in relation to both the texts and the pictorial tradition. This largest collection of medieval Latin lyrics is named after Benediktbeuern (Benedictobura), the Bavarian abbey where it was discovered in 1803, but this was not where it originated. The provenance of the manuscript, now in Munich (BSB Clm 4660), has been discussed ever since. The Codex Buranus is a unique example of a thematically ordered and illustrated Latin songbook of secular content. One illuminator adorned the lyrical texts with ornamental initials and eight colourful miniatures. These framed pen-drawings have a multiple function: they illustrate specific text groups and larger themes, but also play a role in the subdivision and lay-out of the manuscript. The first section with moral and political songs is illustrated by the image of Fortune’s Wheel, which opens the pictorial cycle as an allegory of time and human fate, but also indicates the cyclic character of this worldly song repertoire. The central and largest section, devoted to Love, contains Latin songs from the international repertoire as well as more local bilingual (Latin-German) compositions. The first series praises love’s happiness and laments its sorrows, with a miniature of Dido’s fatal love for Aeneas to mark the break. The local repertoire consists of seasonal love lyrics, often dance songs, that welcome the arrival of spring. The songs open with a description of nature, visualized by a unique full-page miniature of a wooded ‘spring landscape’ with birds and animals. The human response to the joys of nature is shown in a separate image, of a young lover offering flowers to his beloved. The final section celebrates the delights of winter: drinking and gambling in the tavern in good (male) company. The air of parody of this festive season is reflected in an unholy ‘Drinkers’ Mass’. A tavern scene with dice players is combined with two ‘noble board games’, tables (backgammon) and chess, to round off the game theme and the picture cycle in a more courtly fashion. Analysis of the pictorial traditions of the diverse themes makes clear that the Codex Buranus is a very early witness of a new secular and courtly imagery. Most parallels point to Italy and the Mediterranean, especially for the game scenes and the iconography of Fortuna and Dido, including the ‘Venetian’ ship of Aeneas. The drawing style of the illuminator seems to be rooted in the Salzburg school, but later he must have specialized in secular art in an area closer to Italy, most likely at the patriarchal court of Aquileia near Venice. The artist may have come from Passau in the entourage of patriarch Wolfger von Erla (1204-18), who probably started the collection. The project was finished under patriarch Bertold von Andechs (1218-51), who must have commissioned the manuscript. Moreover, his family held the custody of the abbey of Benediktbeuern where the codex was found. As a last stroke of fortune the composer Carl Orff (1895-1982), who made the Carmina Burana world-famous, was laid to rest in the church built on the site of Bertold’s ancestral castle of Andechs
Original languageDutch
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Klamt, J.C.J.A., Primary supervisor, External person
Award date27 May 2011
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2011

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