The Book of Miracles, a 16th-century volume of weird illustrations is now available in facsimile editions

A precious 16th-century volume depicting surreal phenomena and hallucinatory calamities is now available in beautifully packaged facsimiles, writes Adam Wright

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 April, 2014, 12:35pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 April, 2014, 12:35pm

The Book of Miracles
4 stars 

In 2007, a mysterious book was put on auction in Munich that depicted a range of wondrous and at times unsettling phenomena, catastrophes and other strange occurrences in a series of about 170 watercolour and gouache paintings.

The volume, known as The Book of Miracles, turned out to be one of the most important recent discoveries in the field of Renaissance art. It was bought by London book dealer James Faber, and was sent to experts who determined it was created in the mid-16th century in what is now the Bavarian region of Germany.

Several years later, Faber sold it to a private collector, but now anyone with an interest in either Renaissance art, mysterious phenomena or just plain weird goings-on can own a copy.

Boutique publisher Taschen has released a facsimile version of The Book of Miracles, which reproduces the volume in its entirety - the paintings and their texts, even the mildewed reverse sides of the artworks.

Gorgeously packaged in a hard clamshell box, the reproduction is accompanied by a softcover guide that contains essays putting the book in its cultural and historical context, as well as translations of the German text inscribed on each painting.

It is divided into three sections: the creation of the world and incidents drawn from the Old Testament; a range of "miracles" recorded from 73BC to AD1551; and then graphic reproductions of the fate that will befall mankind during the Apocalypse.

Flipping through, you'll learn that in 862, a "large and wonderful stone" fell from the sky, leaving many people marked with small blood-red crosses. You'll learn that in 1456, it rained flesh and blood in Rome. And also that in 1496, a strange creature was discovered near Rome after a serious flooding of the Tiber river.

While many paintings depict what we now recognise as atmospheric phenomena - sun dogs, double rainbows and so on - many of the images wouldn't look out of place at an exhibition of early 20th-century surrealist art. And here, for your Sunday viewing pleasure, are some of the best illustrations from the book.