As the large number of manuscripts related to the art of palm reading indicates, this subject enjoyed a certain popularity in late medieval times. This German Chiromantia, the authorship of which remains a subject of debate, was, however, principally available in the form of block book editions. Block books were produced by cutting the text and the illustrations into the same wooden block, thus making it possible to print both in a single operation. The block book edition of the Chiromantia shown here contains an introduction and 44 plates depicting hands. The plates are arranged so that each female hand on the left (verso) corresponds with a male hand on the right-hand side (recto). The lines and other marks on the hands are explained in short German captions which have been integrated into the corresponding illustration. The technique of woodcut printing is particularly suited to reproducing such images. An unusual feature of this edition is the paper covers that have been ornamented using woodcuts designed to imitate the style of Gothic leather book bindings. The wooden blocks from which the prints were made could be stored over long periods of time and reproduced according to demand. Often, however, they were corrected or changed between printings, and later prints therefore may contain variations. This is the case in the copy shown, which represents the last of the four known stages in the history of the block book edition of this work. While the first two issues of the Chiromantia were published without quire numbers and without information about the producer, typographical signatures and a colophon giving the name Jörg Schapf, a block cutter and bookbinder of Augsburg, were added to the woodcuts at a later stage. Whether Schapf, who is known to have lived in Augsburg between 1478 and 1517, also produced the first two issues or whether he had purchased the wooden blocks from another printer remains unclear. Some scholars have ascribed authorship of the work to Johannes Hartlieb (1410–68), court physician to Duke Albrecht III of Bavaria, who was an authority on witchcraft and palm reading.
Jörg Schapf, Augsburg
Title in Original Language
Type of Item
56 pages : illustrations ; 19.23 x 28.38 centimeters
- BSB shelfmark: Xylogr. 35
- This description of the work was written by Heike Riedel-Bierschwale of the Eichstätt University Library.
Last updated: April 14, 2017