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The Raven King: Matthias Corvinus and the…
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The Raven King: Matthias Corvinus and the Fate of His Lost Library (edition 2008)

by Marcus Tanner (Author)

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704240,478 (3.38)4
Member:TheCriticalTimes
Title:The Raven King: Matthias Corvinus and the Fate of His Lost Library
Authors:Marcus Tanner (Author)
Info:Yale University Press (2008), Edition: 1St Edition, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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The Raven King: Matthias Corvinus and the Fate of His Lost Library by Marcus Tanner

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Marcus Tanner’s The Raven King: Matthias Corvinus and the Fate of His Lost Library is three books combined into one: Firstly, it is a biography of Matthias Corvinus, secondly it is a travel documentary of the author’s discovery of parts of Eastern Europe, and finally, it is an account of 15th century bookmaking and the story of Matthias Corvinus’ library, whose individual volumes are called Corvinia after their former owner. The story of Matthias’ library and books is the most complete and best among the three.

The travel story suffers from the author’s bias and ignorance. Without the necessary background and knowledge, his impressions are often uneven and not a fair assessment. His is the victor’s journey. The Hungarians and Germans in Transylvania are lampooned by him, mostly because he bases his account on Romanian information. This importation of the present into the past makes for some strange reading moments. Only a tiny minority of his readers will notice that the trip from Bratislava, Slovakia, to Hainburg, Austria, is just 20 km up on the other side of the Danube, or that the trip from Sopron, Hungary, to Wiener Neustadt, Austria, is likewise but 25 km.

The tale of Matthias Corvinus as a great book lover suffers from the realization that much of his orders were part of a not so subtle public relations campaign in Italy. He didn’t truly care neither about accuracy nor artistry. What he sought was to impress the Italian rulers, to physically show them that in the distant hinterland of Hungary a rich king was living. Building a huge castle or performing huge feast had less of a chance of being noticed far away than the steady stream of manuscripts and scholars making their way from Italy to Hungary. ( )
1 vote jcbrunner | Nov 30, 2013 |
According to Marcus Tanner, author of The Raven King: Matthias Corvinus and the Fate of His Lost Library, the royal library of Matthias Hunyadi probably contained about 2,500 Greek and Latin volumes—and maybe as much as 6,000 individual works. (It was standard practice to bind several works together into the same volume.) That is a staggering number of books for even a king in an era where most books were still copied out and illuminated by hand.

I have an affinity for people who are mad for books. I have quite a lot of books myself—more than I can be reasonably expected to finish reading in the time left to me—so it isn’t unusual for me to muse on why, what, compels me to this particular obsession. And I’m naturally curious about other people with similar tastes. Still, it is a little odd to feel such a sense of kinship with a man who lived in a wild, barbaric land in the fifteenth century, who was both generous and strangely greedy, intellectually curious, but also a dilettante, considered just, but was also incredibly ruthless. “We would have been friends” I found myself thinking as I turned the pages of Tanner’s book. If, you know, I lived in the fifteenth century, wasn’t a woman, and didn’t get squeamish over a little thing like placing the heads of your enemies on spikes. read full review
1 vote southernbooklady | May 25, 2010 |
This is as much a life and times of the last great king of Hungary as it is an examination of the man's cultural activities; it being the case that the books of Matthias Corvinus are basically the last tangible remains of the time when Hungary was an independent player in the game of great powers, and thus a talisman of romantic nationalism. ( )
  Shrike58 | Dec 1, 2008 |
Matthias Corvinus isn't a name that conjures up much of an association for me; in fact, before I picked up Marcus Tanner's The Raven King: Matthias Corvinus and the Fate of his Lost Library (Yale, 2008) I confess I'd never heard of the man. But as king of Hungary from 1458-1490, Matthias accumulated the second-greatest collection of books in Renaissance Europe (the Vatican library claimed the top spot), a collection of such importance that it is included in UNESCO's "Memory of the World" list of important libraries and archives. Just 216 volumes known to be from the Corvinian Library exist today (of what is estimated to have been a collection of c. 2,000 volumes), mostly in Hungarian, Italian and Austrian institutions. Marcus Tanner's book tells Matthias' story, and with it the tale of his library and its contents across the centuries.

Much of this book is a straight-up biography of Matthias, focusing on his political, military, social and intellectual lives. Tanner recreates the tumultuousness of renaissance Hungary with its ethnic, religious and cultural tensions, caught as it was between western Europe, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire. While the library gets an occasional mention during the main body of the text, the books play second fiddle to Matthias until the king's death, when - in the final chapters - Tanner returns to the library. Only then do we learn in any detail about the major subjects covered by the books, where they were created and how, and where they found themselves after Matthias' death. It is this story which was why I picked up the book, and I wish Tanner had told it in more detail.

What Tanner does give us about the library is fascinating, as is his brief tour of other fifteenth century collections. And he cannot be blamed for delving so deeply into Matthias' biography, because it is quite interesting in its own right. Political and military historians will read this book for those details, and enjoy it. I read it wanting to know about the books, and came away feeling mostly, but not entirely, satisfied.

An appendix lists the known Corvinian titles and their current whereabouts, and the notes and bibliography are quite nice.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2008/10/book-review-raven-king.html ( )
2 vote JBD1 | Oct 5, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0300120346, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:04 -0400)

"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 the Ottoman Empire after Matthias's death in 1490, yielded its treasures and the exquisite library, witness to a golden cultural age, was dispersed across Europe.""The quest to recover this collection of sumptuously illuminated manuscripts provoked and tantalised generations of princes, cardinals, collectors and scholars, and imbued Hungary with the mythical conviction that the restoration of the lost library would seal their country's rebirth. In this account, drawing on a wealth of original sources in several languages, Marcus Tanner charts the odyssey of the Raven King and his majestic bequest, uncovering the remarkable story of a life and library almost lost to history."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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Yale University Press

2 editions of this book were published by Yale University Press.

Editions: 0300120346, 0300158289

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