The Codex Gigas (AKA The Devil’s Bible)

The Codex Gigas (English: Giant Book) is probably the largest extant medieval illuminated manuscript in the world, at 92 cm (36 in) tall. It is also known as the Devil’s Bible because of a very unusual full-page portrait of the devil, and the legend surrounding its creation.

It was created in the early 12th century in the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice in Bohemia (modern Czech Republic). It contains the complete Vulgate Bible as well as other popular works, all written in Latin. Between the Old and New Testaments are a selection of other popular medieval reference works: Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews and De bello iudaico, Isidore of Seville’s encyclopedia Etymologiae, the chronicle of Cosmas of Prague, and medical works; these are an early version of the Ars medicinae compilation of treatises, and two books by Constantine the African.

Eventually finding its way to the imperial library of Rudolf II in Prague, the entire collection was taken as war booty by the Swedish in 1648 during the Thirty Years’ War, and the manuscript is now preserved at the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm, although it is no longer on display for the general public.

Very large illuminated bibles were a typical feature of Romanesque monastic book production, but even within this group the page-size of the Codex Gigas is exceptional.



The codex’s bookbinding is wooden boards covered with leather, and then ornate metal guards and fittings. At 92 cm (36 in) tall, 50 cm (20 in) wide and 22 cm (8.7 in) thick, it is the largest known medieval manuscript. Weighing 74.8 kg (165 lb), Codex Gigas is composed of 310 leaves of vellum allegedly made from the skins of 160 donkeys or perhaps calfskin. It initially contained 320 sheets, though some of these were subsequently removed. It is unknown who removed the pages or for what purpose but it seems likely that they contained the monastic rules of the Benedictines.

The manuscript includes illuminations in red, blue, yellow, green and gold. Capital letters at the start of books of the bible and the chronicle are elaborately illuminated in several colours, sometimes taking up most of the page; 57 of these survive (the start of the Book of Genesis is missing). There are also 20 initials with the letters in blue, with vine decoration in red. With the exception of the portraits of the devil, an author portrait of Josephus, and a squirrel perched on top of an initial (f. 110v), the illumination is all using geometrical or plant-based forms, rather than representing human or animal forms.[8] There are also two images representing Heaven and Earth during the Creation, as blue and green circles with respectively the sun moon and some stars, and a planet all of sea with no landmasses. Within books, major capitals are much enlarged, taking up the height of about five to six lines of text, in red ink, and placed in the margins. Less important divisions such as the start of verses are slightly enlarged within the text and highlighted with yellowish ink around the letter forms.

Folio 290 recto, otherwise empty, includes a picture of the devil, about 50 cm tall. Directly opposite the devil is a full page depiction of the kingdom of heaven, thus juxtaposing contrasting images of Good and Evil. The devil is shown quite frontally, crouching with arms uplifted a posture creating a dynamic effect, as if at any moment he could jump up to seize a new victim in his claws. His size is terrifying in itself where he alone fills the entire space of Hell, even though he does not reach up to the tops of the towers. He is naked except for a white loincloth covered all over in small comma-shaped red dashes which have been interpreted as the tails of ermine furs, the distinguishing attribute of a sovereign, in this particular case the Prince of Darkness, a mighty potentate. He has no tail, and his body, arms and legs are of normal human proportions, but his hands and feet with only four fingers and toes each, terminating in large claws, are bestial, as are his huge horns, which, like all his claws, are red as though dipped in blood.

He has a large, perfectly round, dark green head, the colour of which reminds us of the deadly sin of envy, and his hair forms, as it were, a skull cap of dense little curls. His eyes are small, with red pupils, which gives him a vicious glare, and his red-tipped ears are large, enabling him to pick up all the gossip and slander entitling him to the souls of the calumniators. His open, leering mouth reveals his small white teeth, and two long red tongues flicker from the corners of his mouth. This doubling of tongues evokes negative associations with serpents, which have forked tongues, and false, double-tongued human beings. The expression ‘forked tongues’ is an ancient one already to be found in the Bible (Nordenfalk 1975, n. 15).

Several pages before this double spread are written in yellow characters on a blackened parchment and have a very gloomy character, somewhat different from the rest of the codex. The reason for the variation in coloring is that the pages of the codex are of vellum. Vellum, or scraped and dried animal hide, “tans” when exposed to ultraviolet light. Over centuries, the pages that were most frequently turned have developed this tell-tale darker color.

The codex has a unified look as the nature of the writing is unchanged throughout, showing no signs of age, disease or mood on the part of the scribe. This may have led to the belief that the whole book was written in a very short time (see Legend), but scientists are starting to believe and research the theory that it took over 20 years to complete.

The length, size, and detail of the codex are of such extraordinary magnitude that legend surrounds its origin, specifically the story that it was written by one scribe in one night with help from the devil.


According to one version of a legend that was already recorded in the Middle Ages, the scribe was a monk who broke his monastic vows and was sentenced to be walled up alive. In order to avoid this harsh penalty he promised to create in one night a book to glorify the monastery forever, including all human knowledge. Near midnight, he became sure that he could not complete this task alone so he made a special prayer, not addressed to God but to the fallen angel Lucifer, asking him to help him finish the book in exchange for his soul. The devil completed the manuscript and the monk added the devil’s picture out of gratitude for his aid. In tests to recreate the work, it is estimated that reproducing only the calligraphy, without the illustrations or embellishments, would have taken five years of non-stop writing.

From Wikipedia

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Codex Gigas (AKA The Devil’s Bible)

Leonardo da Vinci’s Visionary Notebooks Now Online: Browse 570 Digitized Pages


Quick, what do you know about Leonardo da Vinci? He painted the Mona Lisa! He wrote his notes backwards! He designed supercool bridges and flying machines! He was a genius about, um… a lot of other… things… and, um, stuff…

Okay, I’m sure you know a bit more than that, but unless you’re a Renaissance scholar, you’re certain to find yourself amazed and surprised at how much you didn’t know about the quintessential Renaissance man when you encounter a compilation of his notebooks—Codex Arundel—which has been digitized by the British Library and made available to the public.

The notebook, writes Jonathan Jones at The Guardian, represents “the living record of a universal mind.” And yet, though a “technophile” himself, “when it came to publication, Leonardo was a luddite…. He made no effort to get his notes published.”

For hundreds of years, the huge, secretive collection of manuscripts remained mostly unseen by all but the most rarified of collectors. After Leonardo’s death in France, writes the British Library, his student Francesco Melzi “brought many of his manuscripts and drawings back to Italy. Melzi’s heirs, who had no idea of the importance of the manuscripts, gradually disposed of them.” Nonetheless, over 5,000 pages of notes “still exist in Leonardo’s ‘mirror writing’, from right to left.” In the notebooks, da Vinci drew “visions of the aeroplane, the helicopter, the parachute, the submarine and the car. It was more than 300 years before many of his ideas were improved upon.”

The digitized notebooks debuted in 2007 as a joint project of the British Library and Microsoft called “Turning the Pages 2.0,” an interactive feature that allows viewers to “turn” the pages of the notebooks with animations. Onscreen glosses explain the content of the cryptic notes surrounding the many technical drawings, diagrams, and schematics (see a selection of the notebooks in this animated format here). For an overwhelming amount of Leonardo, you can look through 570 digitized pages of Codex Arundel here. For a slightly more digestible, and readable, amount of Leonardo, see the British Library’s brief series on his life and work, including explanations of his diving apparatus, parachute, and glider.

Read more here!

Posted in Cool Sites, Manuscripts | Comments Off on Leonardo da Vinci’s Visionary Notebooks Now Online: Browse 570 Digitized Pages

Millions of Objects at 14 Art Institutions to Be Digitized for Online Database

Hans Holbein the Younger, “Sir Thomas More” (1527) (The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)

Hans Holbein the Younger, “Sir Thomas More” (1527) (The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)

















A new database launched by an international consortium of art institutions is working to grant internet users unprecedented access to dozens of art historical photo archives, which capture multiple images of a single artwork over time. Collectively known as PHAROS, the group is gradually digitizing millions of images, many of which are previously unpublished and accessible only through physical visits to individual research repositories. The 14 institutions involved include the Frick Collection (which is leading the project), Rome’s Bibliotheca Hertziana, the Courtauld Institute, Getty Research Institute, Paris’s Institut national d’histoire de l’art, Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, and the Yale Center for British Art.

its completion, Pharos will exist as a searchable database of about 25 million images, most of which are of actual art objects from all over the world; other images consist of supplementary material, such as x-ray photos taken during conservation, or photos of the back of a painting. You may currently sift through over 158,000 images, from eight of the partner institutions, searching by an artwork’s date, artist, dimensions, medium, and more.

Read more here

Posted in Archives in the News, Cool Sites | Comments Off on Millions of Objects at 14 Art Institutions to Be Digitized for Online Database

On this day in 1949 the Federal Republic of Germany is established

Documents on the creation of the German Federal Constitution. Published:  [Berlin] : Prepared by Civil Administration Division, Office of Military Government for Germany ; 1949. (From the H. Warner Waid Collection)

Documents on the creation of the German Federal Constitution.
Published: [Berlin] : Prepared by Civil Administration Division, Office of Military Government for Germany ; 1949. (From the H. Warner Waid Collection)

The NATO-aligned Federal Republic of Germany (popularly known as West Germany) was formally established as a separate and independent nation on May 23, 1949. It would remain so, divided from the Warsaw-pact aligned East Germany, until German reunification on October 9, 1990.

The Federal Republic of Germany, with the city of Bonn as its de facto capital city, was established from eleven states formed in the three Allied Zones of occupation held by the US, the UK and France.  The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was established in October 1949 from the territory occupied by the Soviet Union. The city of Berlin was also divided as West Berlin was later physically separated from East Berlin as well as from East Germany by the Berlin Wall.

Konrad Adenauer (1876–1967), German statesman, first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany 1949–63, at the German Bundestag, February 1955.  Image: Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive)

Konrad Adenauer (1876–1967), German statesman, first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany 1949–63, at the German Bundestag, February 1955.
Image: Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive)

Konrad Adenauer became the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). Adenauer held power for the next fourteen years and during that time refused to recognize the legal existence of the German Democratic Republic.

This divisive arrangement was supposed to be temporary, but as Cold War animosities began to harden, it became increasingly evident that the division between the communist and non-communist controlled sections of Germany and Berlin would become permanent. For the next forty-one years, East and West Germany served as symbols of the divided world, and of the Cold War animosities between the Soviet Union and the United States.

In 1990, with the collapse of communism, East and West Germany were finally reunited as one nation.

The H. Warner Waid Collection -located in Special Collections – consists of over 700 German books, periodicals and government documents such as Documents on the creation of the German Federal Constitution (seen above). Included are German publications from the Weimar era, propaganda from the Nazi era and also U.S. government and military documents from the post-World War II reconstruction era.

Posted in Books | Comments Off on On this day in 1949 the Federal Republic of Germany is established

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk ~ the first president of Turkey

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, c.1923

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, c.1923

Today, May 19, is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s birthday.  Mustafa Kemal was born in 1881 in Thessaloniki, which was part of the Ottoman Empire and died on November 10th, 1938 in Istanbul.  Atatürk, which means father of the Turks was the first president of Turkey from 1923 to 1938.  He led the National Movement and was the commander during the war of independence against imperialism.  He was a nationalist and he advocated the independence of Turkey from all foreigners.   In 1923, he found the Republic of Turkey out of ashes of the Ottoman Empire and he transformed the country into a secular democratic nation-state and launched many reforms to create a modern Turkey by bringing a new political, legal, and education system and giving equal civil rights to women.

A number of books with information about Mustafa Kemal can be found in Special Collections on the second floor of the Bartle Library. These include Ataturk : a biography of Mustafa Kemal, father of modern Turkey by Lord Kinross, How happy to call oneself a Turk : provincial newspapers and the negotiation of a Muslim national identity by Gavin D. Brockett and Turkey by Arnold J. Toynbee and Kenneth P. Kirkwood. All three of these books are part of the Saeedpour Kurdish Collection.

Posted in Books | Comments Off on Mustafa Kemal Atatürk ~ the first president of Turkey

Rare Book on English Gardening Stolen from the NY Book Fair

Stolen in New York

The following book is missing, presumed stolen, from NY Book Fair, March 13, 2017.

STEELE [RICHARD]. An Essay upon Gardening, Containing a Catalogue of Exotic Planes for the Stoves and Green-Houses of the British Gardens… York: Printed for Author, By G. Peacock, 1793. 4to (25.7 x 20.1 cm).

Description: Later 19th century half calf on pebble maroon paper boards. The front cover is loose, almost off. Raised bands with double gilt lines; gilt title in upper panel; wear to edges. Collation: xxii [Includes Subscribers], [2], 126, [1-BL], [1-Explanation for plate], 127- 159, [1-Bl], [1-Errata], [1-Bl], 102, [2 –Explanation for plates], [2-BL] pp. + 3 copper engraved folded plates. The text has some edge dusting and minor toning. Plates and Explanation pages have toning and minor to moderate foxing, plates only.  The text block has been trimmed slightly, resulting in absence of plate mark at head and tail of plates. Details of plates is not affected, only blank margin inside plate mark.  This is scarce complete copy of one of the first publications with identification of origin of exotic plants growing in stoves, green-houses and British gardens.

If you have any information, or believed you have been offered this item, please contact Eugene Vigil (360-354-7512) or

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Rare Book on English Gardening Stolen from the NY Book Fair

Happy Birthday L. Frank Baum!


Cover of 1908’s Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz located in the Binghamton University Libraries’ Special Collections.

Today we celebrate the birthday of L. Frank Baum, known for his children’s books, most famously The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. His first best-selling children’s book was 1899’s Father Goose, His Book. In 1900 Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz , which sold for $1.50 at the time. He went on to write 13 more Oz books before his death in 1919.

Many generations over the years have enjoyed the story as well as 1939 film version based on Baum’s stories, which had its premier over 75 years ago. Baum didn’t live to see that film, but he was involved in a musical stage play (1903) and early silent films based on his most famous book.

A prolific writer, Baum published 55 novels, 82 short stories, and over 200 poems. Along with publishing under his own name L. Frank Baum, many of his books were published under the pseudonyms: Edith Van Dyne, Floyd Akers, Schuyler Staunton, John Estes, Suzanne Metcalf, Laura Bancroft, and Anonymous.

Did you know? Baum was born in Chittenango, New York, in Madison County.

Binghamton University Libraries’ Special Collections holds several of Baum’s works including Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, The Road to Oz, The Magic of Oz and, of course, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Why not stop by and experience the magic of L. Frank Baum this summer?

Posted in Books | Comments Off on Happy Birthday L. Frank Baum!

The Summer of Love: 50 Years

SOL web small

Dean of University Libraries Curtis Kendrick invites the campus and greater community to get “far out” and “groovy” at the opening of our new “Summer of Love: 50 Years” exhibit:

Reception from 4-5 p.m. Thursday, May 11, in Bartle Library’s second floor mezzanine

The exhibit showcases items from our Center for the Study of the 1960s collection that recall an important year in a tumultuous decade. The exhibit provides viewers with a glimpse into the past at the social, cultural and political movements that started or were advanced during the year of 1967. It features stunning rock concert poster art; books on Psychedelic art and the impact the movement still has on contemporary artists; and books on social activism of the late sixties and how those movements are still alive today.

In Special Collections, an exhibit will feature materials from the Libraries’ University Archives that show facets of Binghamton University campus life: activism, academics, the social scene, and groups and clubs. Go back in time to gain an archival perspective of what was happening at the University back in the day.

The exhibits are on view on the Glenn Bartle Library second floor mezzanine and in Special Collections (North Reading Room).

Posted in Binghamton University Events, Events, Exhibits, University Archives | Comments Off on The Summer of Love: 50 Years

Special Collections remembers Sandro Sticca, professor of French and comparative literature

Professor Sandro Sticca

Professor Sandro Sticca

We in Special Collections were very sorry to hear of the passing of Prof. Sandro Sticca. He was a frequent visitor to Special Collections and the epitome of an Italian gentleman. He was a generous donor giving works such as a 2-volume set dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci and a 2-volume set dedicated to Michelangelo. We are especially fortunate that he spent time in Special Collections just before his passing analyzing our rarest books in Latin and Italian. He will be greatly missed.

Special Collections owns many of Prof. Sticca’s books in our Faculty Archives as well as his gifts to us. Please stop by to see the writings and gifts of this scholar who spent more than fifty years at Binghamton University.

Read more about Prof. Sticca here

Posted in Books, Faculty | Comments Off on Special Collections remembers Sandro Sticca, professor of French and comparative literature

Our Book of the Month and Honoring those who fought in WWII

war 001

The Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation for Those Who Lost Their Lives during the Second World War (May 8 and May 9) is an annual international day of remembrance designated by Resolution 59/26  of the United Nations General Assembly on November 22, 2004. The resolution urges ‘Member States, organizations of the United Nations system, non-governmental organizations and individuals’ to pay tribute to the victims of World War II. In the United States, it is observed on May 8, the anniversary of the date when the World War II Allies accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

May 8 is also Victory in Europe (V-E) Day. This day in 1945 marked the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces. With that surrender came the end of World War II in Europe.

What did the WWII home front in Binghamton look like? Ronald Capalaces’ book, When All the Men Were Gone tells that story. He writes: “I lived on the Kelly block at 30 Dickinson Street in the First Ward during the war years with my mother, older sister, and younger brother in the two-bedroom apartment on the second floor – the one on the left, facing the street. All the men were gone; gone for the duration of the war. Left behind were wives, mothers, children, old folks, and the military rejects all facing an uncertain future.”

“The America of World War II stands in sharp contrast to the America of today … we at the Binghamton home front lived in a world where television, cell phones, computers, satellites, and the internet did not exist.”

How else did Binghamton then differ from Binghamton now? What was that world like? Read about it in When All the Men Were Gone, part of the Mark Kulikowski Collection, one of the Local History resources in Special Collections.

Special Collections is located on the second floor of the Bartle Library (off of the North Reading Room). Our hours are Monday-Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Posted in Books, Featured Book, Local History | Comments Off on Our Book of the Month and Honoring those who fought in WWII