The Book of Miracles–1552

I’ll be hoping to get a little cash for Christmas, as I have my heart set on another lush book from Taschen, a reproduction of The Book of Miracles (Wunderzeichenbuch), printed in Augsburg in 1552.

Taschen Miracles1

The book only came to public light in 2007, when it turned up at a German auction house. The artwork is extraordinary. Study these vibrant images and you’ll never have to create your own nightmares again.

taschen_bookofmiracles3  TaschenMiracles 2

These images and a discussion of the book can be found at BrainPickings.

An amazing Pinterest Board of 50 images and translation of the text can be found HERE.

The Book of Miracles is a 16th-century equivalent of the National Enquirer, but the art will leave you breathless even if the miracles don’t.

Research in Fiction

The whole point of a historian is to reconstruct, as imaginatively as you can, with all the insights you can get on the basis of the available evidence, and see if you can give a picture that’s as true as is possible, given all those preconditions. And it’s a difficult job and it’s a constant challenge to all of us, all the time, whatever we’re writing about.   –John H. Elliott 

For a novelist, there is always the question, how accurate must I be, since this is fiction? Historical fiction spreads across a wide spectrum from ridiculously inaccurate to meticulously researched. I hope to fall as much as possible toward the latter, knowing I will miss things and make mistakes, even if I try my best. Nevertheless, the truth of history is so much richer than anything we can invent, and the reader, while he may fall for a ruse, will feel himself enriched by the truth when it is presented with skill by a good storyteller.

Cornelis Dusart

Renaissance Deodorant

On the Ornaments of Women

Written by Giovanni Marinello

published with privilege in Venetia (Venice)
by John Valgrifio, 1574

translated into English by

Courtney Hess-Dragovich

If you wash your armpits frequently in wine in which is boiled nutmeg, mace or, if you desire, grains of musk, you will stop the smellreleasing a gentle scent.                          

This blog is a treasure, but my favorite posts are the deodorant recipes

16th Century Food in Spain

Jake & Katharina are now in Spain. What shall they eat?

Wonderful resource here. A 16th-century Spanish cookbook! Two recipes below.

I might try the first, but not the second.



You will take goat milk, and almond milk, and then take the flower of wheat flour, and rosewater, and sugar, and egg yolks, and let all this be well-mixed; and make paste from it which is neither very soft or very hard, but moderate; and then make from it little cakes; and take hazelnuts, and pine nuts, and yolks of hard-boiled eggs, and grind them all together; and then take raw eggs, and blend them with said hazelnuts and pine nuts; and this moderately, so that it is neither very thin nor very thick.  And then take sugar, and rosewater, and cinnamon, and a little ginger, and make little cakes of all this mixture with that paste; and fry these little cakes with lard and with fresh melted pork fat, in a casserole of  tinned copper or bronze; and when this lard is well heated, cast in the little cakes; and after they are fried, take them out with a skimmer, and put them on a plate; and cast into it rosewater and honey; and when they are to be eaten, cast sugar and cinnamon on top of them.


You will take a cat that is fat, and decapitate it.  And after it is dead, cut off the head and throw it away because it is not for eating, for they say that eating the brains will cause him who eats them to lose his senses and judgment.  Then flay it very cleanly, and open it and clean it well, and then wrap it in a cloth of clean linen.  And bury it beneath the ground where it must be for a day and a night; and then take it out of there and set it to roast on a spit. And roast it over the fire.  And when beginning to roast it, grease it with good garlic and oil.  And when you finish greasing it, whip it well with a green twig, and this must be done before it is well-roasted, greasing it and whipping it.  And when it is roasted, cut it as if it were a rabbit or a kid and put it on a big plate; and take garlic and oil blended with good broth in such a manner that it is well-thinned.  And cast it over the cat.  And you may eat of it because it is very good food.


No wonder Renaissance ladies were so proud of their needlework. Or that it took so much time. They created truly amazing and beautiful garments with no computerized smocking machines or automated pleaters.

Thanks to Genoveva von Lubeck for her series on historic pleating. The researchers in The Society for Creative Anachronism are a novelist’s best friends, and I adore them for the hours they spend collecting and analyzing images on all topics. The SCA rocks!

Photo copyright Grace Vibbert

Photo copyright Grace Vibbert

Colors of 16th-Century Hosen

“Pinks, beiges and flesh tints.”

Italian hose, 1500-1510)

Italian hose, 1500-1510)

Doe’s Belly

Brown Bread

Merry Widow

Amorous Desire


Lost Time

Sad Friend

Monkey’s Smile

Dying Monkey

Mortal Sin

Colour of Hell

Sick Spaniard

and my personal favorite:  Resuscitated Corpse

This is not quite our period, (the image is), but I just can’t resist. These are the names of colors given to hose in a dyer’s advertisement from Neufchateau in Lorraine, (printed in 1607), according to “A History of Hand Knitting” by Richard Rutt, Bishop of Leicester, (pub. B T Batsford Ltd, 1989.)

Little Ol’ Renaissance Dining Room

When Pope Leo X invites Erasmus and Jake to a banquet in Line of Ascent, where do they eat?

Fire in the Borgo

Fire in the Borgo

Poor Jake. He’s not in Kansas anymore. At the time of Pope Leo X (1513 – 1521), the Fire in the Borgo room was used as a dining room and the task of frescoing the walls was assigned to Raphael, who entrusted a large part of the work to his students. The most beautiful photography from all around Rome is here.

Your Cooking could Send You to the Stake

In 1492, when King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile gave Jews who had not yet converted the choice to either convert to Catholicism or leave Spain, in some towns the entire community left, in others the entire community converted. There were large numbers of Conversos in Castile, Aragon, Andalusia and Valencia. Within a century, the majority had melted into the Christian population, but. . .continued to be suspected of being secret Jews (Marranos). If denounced, they were interrogated and could be burnt at the stake. . .or imprisoned. . .their property confiscated and their families. . . stigmatized for generations. Inquisitors visited homes on Fridays to see if families put white tablecloths and candlesticks on the table to celebrate the Sabbath. The dreaded Inquisitor General Tomas de Torquemada – himself a Converso – would stand on a hill above a city on Saturdays to identify the houses where there was no smoke coming out  of the chimneys (Jewish laws prohibit any work, including cooking and lighting a fire, on the Sabbath). oliveoil,jpgRecords of the Inquisition show that food was used as evidence of Judaizing when women were brought to trial. Because of the many religious rules related to food, cooking was central to the Jewish identity. So as not to use pork fat as Christians did for cooking, and to avoid clarified butter, which the Muslims used (their dietary laws forbid mixing meat with dairy products), Jews used olive oil exclusively for all their cooking. The smell of frying with olive oil became so strongly associated with Jewishness that even Old Christians of non-Jewish descent avoided it for fear of being mistaken for secret Jews. From The Food of Spain: A Celebration by Claudia Roden

Dürer et al.

Friedrich Wanderer 1901 painting

I love this painting of the Nuremberg artists of the late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries. Of course, Dürer is taller than everyone else. That’s because he knows I’m going to write a book about him. He’s so very spiffy in his cow-mouth shoes.

This painting was done in 1901 by Friedrich Wanderer. From left to right are Adam Kraft, Veit Hirsvogel the glazier, Veit Stoss, Michael Wolgemut, Peter Vischer the Elder, Albrecht Dürer, Hans von Kulmbach, Johann Neudörfer, Nikolaus Glockendon, Anton Koberger with a press assistant, and Augustin Hirsvogel.

From that most excellent Journal of the Northern Renaissance  (Issue 1, 2009).  Scholarly AND open access.

Poor Conrad Rebellion of 1514

2014_Armer_Konrad_Gaißer-Sondermarke I love it that we’re entering into the 500-year anniversaries of the events that play into my novels.  This stamp was issued to commemorate the Poor Conrad Rebellion of 1514. The rebels adopted the term “Poor Conrad” which was used by the nobility to mock them, meaning “poor fellow” or “poor devil.” The battle flag of the rebels depicted a farmer lying in front of a cross. But the revolt fell apart as the approaching well-armed ducal troops made more and more insurgents desert. Finally the Poor Conrad rebellion collapsed quietly. Ducal troops dragged the remaining 1,700 rebels to Schorndorf, where they were tortured, imprisoned and their commanders beheaded. A happy topic for conversation at Katharina’s wedding feast.

“Quotation Marks”

In Line of Ascent, Jake works as a proofreader for this printer, Mathias Schürer, in 1515. Perhaps the quotation marks were Jake’s idea. 🙂

quotation marks

The earliest book discovered in which appeared indicia which may properly be termed marks of quotation was printed in 1516 at Strasbourg, Alsace (then in Germany), by Mathias Schurer. It was “De Vitis Sophistarum” by Flavius Philostratus. The marks consisted of two commas in the left hand margin of each page outside the regular type measure. They were placed at the beginning of each line in which a quoted passage appeared, and were evidently added after the page was set up, because their alignment varies greatly.

☛ Concerning Quotation Marks by Douglas C. McMurtrie, New York: privatly printed, 1934, p. 4. Read the full article here.

Slunk Vellum

In Line of Ascent, Jake wanders the tanners’ quarter looking for Katharina and enters the workshop of a parchment maker.

A life-thief stole my world-strength,

Ripped off flesh and left me skin,

Dipped me in water and drew me out.

Stretched me bare in the tight sun…

Translation from Old English by Craig Williamson, “A Feast of Creatures- Anglo Saxon Riddle Songs”, Scolar Press, 1983

This Anglo-Saxon riddle describes the making of a book. Vellum comes from the French for calf. The finest vellum was slunk vellum from stillborn calves.

Just get a Kindle

Just get a Kindle

Although there is scholarly debate about whether all slunk vellum was from fetuses, Nicholas Hilliard in A Treatise Concerning the Arte of Limning (1598-1603) was pretty specific:

Knowe also that Parchment is the only good and best thinge to limme one, but it must be virgine Parchment, such as neuer bore haire, but younge things found in the dames bellye. Some calle it Vellym, some Abertive derived from the word Abhortive, for vntimely birthe. It must be most finly drest, as smothe as any sattine, and pasted with starch well strained one pastbourd well burnished, that it maye be pure without speckes or staynes, very smoothe and white.

And bras.

Lengberg Bra.jpg

Bra found in Austrian castle radiocarbon-dated to the 1400s.

Henri de Mondeville, surgeon to Philip the Fair of France and his successor Louis X, wrote in his Cyrurgia in 1312–20:

“Some women… insert two bags in their dresses, adjusted to the breasts, fitting tight, and they put them [the breasts] into them every morning and fasten them when possible with a matching band.”

Read the full story HERE.

When I have a little money. . .


The following is from Erasmus’ letter of March/April 1515. He was on his way to the Frankfurt Book Fair. In Line of Ascent, Jake is with Erasmus on this trip.

In Mainz I had counted up my small stock of money so that I could know if anything had gone astray, for I was so frightened by reports that a ship had been ransacked that I had concealed it in my leggings. I found sixty-six gold coins. . .There was a parlor with a stove in it attached to my bedroom of which I had sole use, in which we talked far into the night, Schürer and I and several other friends. When they had all gone I left my purse there and went to bed. In the morning, not suspecting trouble, I thought I would count the money again, to make sure how much I could afford to take out for buying books. I soon saw that I was two nobles short. My heart sank; I counted again, and found that twenty-two gold florins were missing as well.

From the Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol 3.