Latin and Vernacular Versions of the Tabule veteris et novi coloris of Nicholas of Dresden and Their Political Impact

When Nicholas of Dresden, an active supporter of the Hussite party in Prague, composed a text entitled Tabule veteris et novi coloris seu Cortina de anticristo in 1412, he could by no means forsee the effect this text would have upon wider masses in the future. Besides its immediate popularity among the Hussite reformers, this sharp and propagandistic work, based on the contrasts between the Primitive Church and the modern Roman Church, continued stiring emotions long after the death of its author. At the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, an Old Czech adaptation of the Latin original was included in the richly illuminated Jena Codex, a unique treasure of late medieval Bohemian culture and one of the most popular medieval manuscripts of Bohemian provenance.

The Old Czech adaptation of the Tabule, which contains numerous pictorial antitheses that supplanted the text and played the main role in transmitting the message, has received much attention from modern scholars. At present it is commonly accepted that the pictorial antitheses in the Jena codex were not modelled directly on the Latin text of Nicholas’s Tabule but they served a different purpose. At the same time, the opinion that certain pictorial antitheses (possibly in the form of wall-paintings) were well-known among the Hussites is also widespread. The hypothesis that the Latin text of the Tabule could have been meant as a model for these wall-paintings presented a breakthrough in the debate.

The contrasts presented in the Tabule are very much grounded in contemporary ideology, especially in the works of John Wyclif, Matthew of Janov and others. Yet the Tabule expresses in an explicit manner what is only implicitly contained in these well-known works: the Roman Church is presented here as the mystical body of Antichrist while its opposite, the Primitive Church, stands for a real system of new social order that can be restored among people. The new element in Nicholas’s criticism, moreover, is that it is postulated from the point of view of a person standing outside the criticized institution.

The paper aims at investigating the connection between the Latin Tabule and its Czech adaptation in the Jena codex from the point of view of communication and the way they adopted different textual and/or pictorial strategies in order to achive their desired effect. I will explore how the collection of lenghty Latin quotations from Bible, the Canon Law and various authorities, embodied in the Tabule, were later transformed into the sharply spectacular pictorial and vernacular adaptation in the Jena Codex.