First Folio of Zainer’s German Bible


Presented here are the decorations for the first folio of the Augsburg edition of the German Bible printed by Günther Zainer (died 1478) in 1477. The illustrations are the work of an unknown illuminator from the workshop of Johann Bämler (1430–circa 1508). They consist of a colored and golden woodcut initial letter B, containing a scene showing a cardinal and church father, probably Saint Jerome (died 419 or 420), discussing a codex that most likely is Jerome’s translation of the Bible into Latin known as the Vulgate. The text is Jerome’s letter to Paulinus, bishop of Nola, Letter 53, written in 394, which begins: “[Our] Brother Ambrose along with your little gifts has delivered to me a most charming letter….” In the letter Saint Jerome extols Ambrose for his devotion to study of the scriptures and fear of God. The scene is constructed as a perspective view into the interior of a room, with the landscape behind the window topped by a blue sky. The frame of the letter B creates a golden area with stars or rosettes. The upper and internal margins are decorated with flowers and vines. Bämler was a scribe, calligrapher, illuminator, printer, and bookseller. Zainer was a painter and goldsmith who probably was also the first printer in Augsburg. The second image is a close-up of the illuminated capital B.

Last updated: July 18, 2016