This sketchbook, drawn in with pencil and pen, shows the intensive study of the medieval Codex Manesse miniatures by the 29-year-old Wilhelm Wach during the last months of his stay in Paris in 1817. It also offers insights into the first months of his subsequent stay in Italy until 1819.
On most of the pages in the book’s first half, Wach produced drawings after about 40 of the 138 full-page miniatures of the Codex Manesse, which was then in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris. The most extensive surviving collection of Middle High German song and proverb poetry from around 1300 to 1340 attracted the attention of experts and interested laypeople alike as an outstanding monument to German poetry and book illustration in the Middle Ages at the beginning of the 19th century as the nation’s past turned into a subject of increasing interest. Wach did not reproduce the selected miniatures in their entirety. Instead, he occasionally drew larger sections or groups of figures. Yet, in most cases, he preferred individual figures removed from the narrative context as well as detailed depictions. He did not limit himself to the protagonists – the singers shown in idealised form or figures sung in their verses – or to details characterising the singers, such as coats of arms and heraldic helmets, instead, he also took up less central accompanying figures and everyday objects, such as game boards or saddles, for the miniatures’ compositions.
Wach’s pencil sketches, sometimes carefully coloured over with pen and grey or dark brown, were mainly based on aspects of costume and culture, as his notes confirm: not only did he provide numerous drawings with detailed notes, some of them relating to the nature and colour of the depicted items of clothing, but he also sometimes realised observations on clothing, objects and behaviour when looking at the miniatures. The latter he apparently regarded as exemplary for the medieval world and therefore as remarkable.
The drawings in the sketchbook’s second half were made by Wach in 1817 and 1818, at the beginning of his scholarship in Italy. As in Wach’s other two sketchbooks (Inv. 16297 and 16298), both of which are kept in the Städel Museum and were used entirely in Italy, Wach recorded cities, buildings or architectural elements that he quickly sketched out in pencil, as well as individual figures or groups of figures that he drew after artworks primarily seen in churches. Unlike in the other two sketchbooks, however, in the present book he very rarely noted where he had made his drawings, which makes it difficult to identify the depicted architecture and pieces of art. The occasional references only allow us to deduce a stay in Rome and possibly in Lucca.
Later, probably by someone else, the sketchbook was foliated in black on the recto pages (compare also the note on the front cover: “63 sheets.”), not counting the seven sheets previously cut or torn out by Wach. Again, someone else seems to have numbered the book “I” and added two dates in pencil on the inside front cover, as well as isolated notes on pages in the book, which are probably based on a comparative examination of all three of Wach’s sketchbooks in the Städel Museum.
For a full sketchbook description, please see “Research”.
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