Rüdiger Manesse and his Codex

On this day, September 5th, 1304 Rüdiger Manesse, Alderman of Zurich and collector of German medieval Minnelieder died at home. Manesse was a senior figure in the city of Zurich and acted as judge and member of the city council.

He is most famous for collecting the texts of medieval German Minnelieder (literally “songs of courtly love”), the romances sung in high German at the courts of the high Middle Ages.

Though some of the Minnesaenger may have been professional musicians and poets, the majority were members of the lower nobility, and some works are attributed to dukes, counts, kings and even to emperor Henry VI.

Manesse’s collection was the basis for the most comprehensive and most beautiful collection of Minnesong, the Heidelberger or Manesse Codex, created around 1340. It contains lyrical works of 140 different poets, Each poet is introduced with a miniature depicting courtly life. These are some of the most beautiful medieval illustrations – full stop.

The exact link between the Codex Manesse and Rüdiger Manesse is not recorded. The University Library in Heidelberg, where the Codex is kept, asserts that it was made in Zurich in around 1340. It may well be that it had been produced for the Manesse family, though Rudiger himself was long dead when it was made.

It first came to Heidelberg in the 16th century but when the Elector Palatinate had to flee in 1622 after the battle of White Mountain, they took the Codex with them and sold them for cash. It returned in 1888 after long and difficult negotiations with the Bibliotheque Nationale. Under the deal Heidelberg handed over 166 manuscripts, including 23 Carolingian ones plus 400,000 Gold Mark in exchange for just this one book, the Codex Manesse.

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