Would you like a hoefnagel with that bocskay?


October 2, 2012 by Gail Armstrong

The theme of the day is Hoefnagel.  What’s a Hoefnagel, you ask?  Not a what, but a who…Joris Hoefnagel, to be precise, and while he may not be widely known, he is deeply appreciated by anyone who has spent any time perusing the wonder that is Mira calligraphiae monumenta (aka The Model Book of Calligraphy).

Hoefnagel didn’t actually write the book – calligrapher Georg Bocskay did that, during 1561-62, with the purpose of assembling in one place all the great calligraphic scripts.  That in itself was a fairly impressive achievement, as he was a master calligrapher.

It was close to thirty years later that Hoefnagel – considered the last great European manuscript illuminator – turned his very skilled hand to illuminating Bocskay’s work.  The result is an enduring work of beauty.

Scholars consider that what Hoefnagel did was to set up a sort of competition between the painted image and the written word, setting out both to respond to it and to suggest the superiority of the image to the word. 

I’m not sure about that, but I do find his representations of natural objects to be both exquisitely observed and amusingly composed.

Here are some of the loveliest pages from this interesting work.  The first few are from the Getty Museum website and include the calligraphic selections they accompany in the original.  Note that the dimensions of the original are 6 9/16 x 4 7/8 inches.  So these images are actually considerably larger than the ‘miniature’ originals.  Enjoy the sumptuous visual feast:

Dragonfly, pear, carnation and insect


Pomegranate blossom, worm and peach


Maltese Cross, mussel and ladybird


Fly, caterpillar, pear and centipede


Sour Orange, Terrestrial Mollusk and Larkspur




Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta - Joris Hoefnagel, Flemish illustrator, 16th century 









I would love the world-wide interweb for introducing me to Mr. Hoefnagel, even if it achieved nothing else at all.  (Sorry, Mr. Bocskay, your work is also magnificent, but the visual images prevail for me.)

There are many more – and some much more varied – images in the work, and if you like it as much as I do, may I refer you to a beautiful little reproduction, complete with scholarly commentary:  Nature Illuminated:  Flora and Fauna from the Court of the Emperor Rudolf II, available from the Getty Store (or Amazon) for a meagre $14.95.  (No, I don’t get a commission….)


2 thoughts on “Would you like a hoefnagel with that bocskay?

  1. klattbaltaji says:

    Thanks for sharing the work of this artist. Really timeless classics!

  2. Glad you liked his work!

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