The Raven King: Matthias Corvinus and the Fate of His Lost Library

Overview

Seizing the Hungarian throne at the age of fifteen, Matthias Corvinus, the "Raven King,? was an effervescent presence on the fifteenth-century stage. A successful warrior and munificent art patron, he sought to leave as symbols of his strategic and humanist ambitions a strong, unified country, splendid palaces, and the most magnificent library in Christendom. But Hungary, invaded by Turkey after Matthias's death in 1490, yielded its treasures, and the Raven King?s exquisite library of two thousand volumes, ...

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Overview

Seizing the Hungarian throne at the age of fifteen, Matthias Corvinus, the "Raven King,” was an effervescent presence on the fifteenth-century stage. A successful warrior and munificent art patron, he sought to leave as symbols of his strategic and humanist ambitions a strong, unified country, splendid palaces, and the most magnificent library in Christendom. But Hungary, invaded by Turkey after Matthias's death in 1490, yielded its treasures, and the Raven King’s exquisite library of two thousand volumes, witness to a golden cultural age, was dispersed first across Europe and then the world.

The quest to recover this collection of sumptuously illuminated scripts provoked and tantalized generations of princes, cardinals, collectors, and scholars and imbued Hungarians with the mythical conviction that the restoration of the lost library would seal their country's rebirth. In this thrilling and absorbing account, drawing on a wealth of original sources in several languages, Marcus Tanner tracks the destiny of the Raven King and his magnificent bequest, uncovering the remarkable story of a life and library almost lost to history.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

In this meandering book, British journalist and author Tanner (The Last of the Celts) traces the creation and dissolution of the fabled library of 15th-century Hungarian King Matthias Corvinius. Born Matthias Hunyadi in Cluj, Transylvania, in 1443, the boy who would become the Raven King followed his father's footsteps into the military, eventually becoming the leader of a Hungarian empire that briefly served as Europe's bulwark against the Ottoman invasion. The library is the framing device for a biography of Matthias, a summary of Hungarian history from the Renaissance to the present day, and an account of great Renaissance libraries. As part of his effort to bring Italian humanism to far-off Hungary, Matthias sent learned emissaries to Florence to order special volumes of the rediscovered Classics, all written, illustrated, and bound by hand. Tanner surveys the surviving Corvinian manuscripts (marked with the Raven symbol) and the paths they followed from the Ottoman sack of Budapest in 1526 to the great libraries of Europe and the United States where they reside today. Black-and-white illustrations and a map (neither seen) should help with the presentation. This book belongs in public libraries and will be of great interest to students of eastern European history.
—Stewart Desmond

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300158281
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/27/2009
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Marcus Tanner is a journalist and writer, editor of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, and a leader-writer for the Independent. His previous books include Croatia, Ireland's Holy Wars, and The Last of the Celts, all published by Yale University Press.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Map of Hungary in the fifteenth century

Ch. 1 'Deep inside the palace' 1

Ch. 2 Beyond the forest 20

Ch. 3 'I delight in everything that's new' 33

Ch. 4 'Ceaselessly entangled in warfare' 58

Ch. 5 Beatrice 77

Ch. 6 'The Emperor has fled' 95

Ch. 7 The librarian Ugoleto 108

Ch. 8 'A glutton for books' 125

Ch. 9 Collapse 141

Ch. 10 'Who can restrain their tears?' 168

Ch. 11 The walls of the Seraglio 189

Epilogue: 'Matjaz will ride out' 210

Appendix 216

Notes 225

Select bibliography 245

Index 253

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