Regimen of Health

Heinrich von Laufenberg (circa 1390–1460) was a cleric from the southwest German town of Freiburg, a prolific writer of prose and verse in both German and Latin, who is best known for his religious lyrics. His Regimen Sanitatis (Regimen of health) of 1429 is a medical-astronomical compendium of guidance to healthful living that stretches to more than 6,000 lines of metrical German. The work presents the reader with practical rules for healthy living concerning such matters as a balanced diet, phlebotomy (bloodletting, then a common treatment to prevent or cure illness), and ways to prevent the plague. The text reflects the contemporary scientific view that planetary configurations affect an individual’s well-being. Folio 23v (image 50) of the manuscript, for example, shows an illustration depicting the sections of the human body that it was believed should not be medicated while the moon is in a certain sign of the zodiac. This splendid codex with its beautiful layout and 71 colored drawings and initials offers a representative example of a mid-15th-century scientific manuscript intended for practical use by wealthy citizens or by religious orders.

Stories of the Prophets

Qisas al-anbiya (Stories of the prophets) by the 12th-century Persian writer Ishaq Ibn-Ibrahim al-Nishapuri contains the history of the prophets up to Muhammad, recounted on the basis of the Qur’anic narration. It includes stories drawn from the biblical traditions of the Old Testament as well as material on the pre-Islamic prophets of the Arabian Peninsula. This splendid and richly illuminated manuscript containing 22 miniatures was copied in Shiraz (in present-day Iran) in 1577, at the time a center of the arts in Safavid Persia. The manuscript once belonged to the collection of the German diplomat and orientalist Heinrich Friedrich von Diez (1751–1817) and is now in the Berlin State Library–Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

Max and Moritz: A Story of Naughty Boys in Seven Pranks

Max and Moritz, a picture story about two mischievous little boys, is one of the most popular German children’s books. The first edition came out in late October 1865 in a print run of 4,000 copies. The author, Wilhelm Busch (1832–1908), had intended to have his tale published in Fliegende Blätter, then a successful satirical weekly paper, but publisher Kaspar Braun included the title in the children’s books catalog of the firm of Braun & Schneider. The comic story is told in rhyming verse, and divided into seven “pranks”: “Erster Streich” (First prank), the second through sixth pranks, and “Letzter Streich” (Final prank). The work is illustrated by wood engravings that are also by Busch and colorfully stenciled by hand. When Busch died in 1908, Max and Moritz was in its 56th edition. The popularity of the book spread beyond the German-speaking world, and Busch’s verses were translated into English, French, Italian, Russian, Hebrew, Japanese, and other languages. The Katzenjammer Kids, an American comic created by German immigrant Rudolph Dirks (1877–1968), was inspired by Max and Moritz, making it a predecessor of the early comic strips.

Ninety-Five Theses

Martin Luther’s Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum of 1517, commonly known as the Ninety-Five Theses, is considered the central document of the Protestant Reformation. Its complete title reads: “Out of love and zeal for clarifying the truth, these items written below will be debated at Wittenberg. Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology and an official professor at Wittenberg, will speak in their defense. He asks this in the matter: That those who are unable to be present to debate with us in speech should, though absent from the scene, treat the matter by correspondence. In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.” The document went on to list 95 clerical abuses, chiefly relating to the sale of indulgences (payment for remission of earthly punishment of sins) by the Roman Catholic Church. Luther (1483–1546), a German priest and professor of theology, became the most important figure in the great religious revolt against the Catholic Church known as the Reformation. While he intended to use the 95 theses as the basis for an academic dispute, his indictment of church practices rapidly spread, thanks to the then still-new art of printing. By the end of 1517, three editions of the theses were published in Germany, in Leipzig, Nuremberg, and Basel, by printers who did not supply their names. It is estimated that each of these early editions was of about 300 copies, of which very few survived. This copy in the collections of the Berlin State Library was printed in Nuremberg by Hieronymus Höltzel. It was discovered in a London bookshop in 1891 by the director of the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings) and presented to the Royal Library by the Prussian Ministry for Education and Culture.

Gospel Concordance

This 1635 Gospel concordance in Armenian was written, illuminated, and bound at the Holy Savior's Monastery in Nor Jugha (now called Julfa), the Armenian quarter of Isfahan (in present-day Iran). Isfahan was at that time the capital of Safavid Persia. The book is finely illuminated with four portraits of the evangelists, along with vignettes, headpieces, and decorated initials that are either zoomorphic or anthropomorphic in form. The miniatures on the first seven pages are later additions by a different hand. The manuscript is one of the highlights of the collection of 128 Armenian manuscripts held by the Berlin State Library–Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin.

Fencing Book

This early-16th-century book about fencing consists almost entirely of illustrations, with a minimal amount of text appearing as captions. It consists of 258 drawings on 130 pages, most of which show a pair of fighters using the different cut and thrust weapons that were common at that time: the long sword, the short sword, and the dagger. The work is anonymous, but it owes much to the written and pictorial work of Hans Talhoffer (circa 1420–circa 1490), a fencing instructor, famous sword fighter, and author of several Fechtbücher (fencing books). By displaying fighters in an arena, as seen in folio 6v (image 16), the book also shows fencing as a form of ordeal by battle, an armed duel between two combatants used as a final means to settle a dispute. Stylistically, the pictures closely resemble those of a fencing book of 1512 from the school of the great German artist, Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528).


This codex is widely considered to be one of the most original of extant medieval mahzorim (Jewish holy day prayer books) from Spain, dating probably from the beginning of the 14th century. Written in Hebrew in Sephardic square characters, it contains two distinct parts that later were bound together. The larger part forms a Haggadah shel Pesach (the text of the order of service used at the beginning of Passover). It includes piyutim (liturgical poems, usually sung or chanted) for Passover and the Aramaic targum (translation) of Exodus, followed by liturgical poetry for Shavuot (which commemorates the gift of the Torah to the Israelites) and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). Most characteristic is the way key words of the liturgy are illustrated, the characters being transformed into zoomorphic and anthropomorphic grotesque creatures, a fashion that was widespread in medieval Jewish manuscripts in Spain. The manuscript originally belonged to the famous collection of manuscripts and incunabula owned by Alexander, Earl of Hamilton, which was acquired in 1882 by the Prussian state. Since 1919, the Hebrew items from the collection have been in the holdings of the Oriental Department of the Berlin State Library.

Life and Deeds of the Cunning Rogue Guzman de Alfarache

Vida y hechos del picaro Guzman de Alfarache (The life and deeds of the cunning rogue Guzman de Alfarache) is an important early example of the picareseque novel, a fictional genre that developed in Spain and that takes its name from picaro, a Spanish word meaning rogue or rascal. Written more as a moralizing discourse than for amusement, Guzman de Alfarache offers all of the features of the picaresque novel. The author, Mateo Alemán (born in Seville in 1547, died in Mexico circa 1615), developed an original personal style, not yet exploited in La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades (The life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of his fortunes and adversities), the anonymous novella published in 1554 that served as his model. In both the first and second parts of the work, the storyline is supplemented with short tales, diversions, and anecdotes that allow the author to reflect on topics such as justice, honor, and forgiveness, even as they interrupt the main narrative by Guzman, an unscrupulous character who undertakes numerous frauds and deceptions. A feeling of sadness pervades the story, drawing the reader into the complicated realities of 16th-century Spain and Italy, and reflecting the spirit of the Counter-Reformation then underway. The first part was published in Madrid in 1599 and was a remarkable success. Publication of the second part followed in 1604. The work was enormously popular and was soon translated into English, French, German, Italian, and Latin. This edition from the National Library of Spain was printed in 1681.

Book on Geometry, Practice, and Patterns

This landscape-shaped printed work is the first treatise on tailoring published in Spain. It paved the way for other such works in the late 16th century and early 17th century. The author was Juan de Alcega, born in Guipuzcoa, in the Basque region of northern Spain, and a tailor by trade. In his dedication, to a theologian called Tejada, he describes "this, my small work, something brand new, never seen so far in our Spain." The usefulness of the work was confirmed by Hernan Gutierrez, tailor to the princess of Portugal, and Juan Lopez de Burgette, tailor to the duke of Alba, who, on August 21, 1579, after examining the work and the knowledge of the author, concluded that "this book is quite good, useful and beneficial for the entire republic" and recommended that the author be given a license so that it could be printed and sold at a fair price. The license was granted by the king on September 13, 1579, and the book was printed in Madrid in 1580. Alcega’s work is structured in three parts, through which he intends to pass on his knowledge, even though, as he informs the reader in the preface, several times he was on the verge of quitting, either "because I greatly considered the costs and several patterns that were necessary" or because "there were so many contradictions and disputes I faced in the Royal Advice on the printing of this book." The first part explains the origin of the "ellwand that we use in these Kingdoms of Castile," which is divided in "twelfth, and eighth, and sixth, and fourth, and third, and half of an ell." It then mentions how the measurements of cloth were to be reduced from "two ellwands of width" to any other size. Using fractions, Alcega devotes 22 chapters to this subject, so that anyone can correctly order the cloth, silk, or other fabric necessary to make men’s or women's clothing without either wasting or running short of fabric. In the second part, Alcega presents 135 traças (patterns) used to make clothing for men, women, clergy, commanders of military orders, suits for jousts and reed games, and even flags of war. The quality of the designs is noteworthy and contrasts with the neglect seen in the writing of the accompanying explanatory texts. In the third part, Alcega specifies the amount of fabric necessary to produce each item of clothing, using tables that combine three possible lengths of the items and 14 possible widths of the fabrics that might be used.

Four Books on the Nature and Virtues of Plants and Animals for Medicinal Purposes in New Spain

Francisco Hernández de Toledo (1514–87) was a court physician, who in 1570 was ordered by King Philip II of Spain to embark on a scientific mission to New Spain (as Mexico was then called) to study the medicinal plants of the New World. For seven years Hernández traveled throughout the country, collecting specimens and gathering information on how plants were used by indigenous physicians. He returned to Spain in 1577 with 16 volumes of notes and with numerous illustrations made by three indigenous painters who assisted him in his work. Hernández died in 1587 without seeing his work published. His editor, Recchi, also died, in 1595, without being able to finish the work. Quatro libros de la naturaleza y virtudes de las plantas y animales que estan receuidos en el uso de la medicina en la Nueva España (Four books on the nature and virtues of plants and animals for medicinal purposes in New Spain) is a Spanish translation of the original Latin of Hernández. It was made by Francisco Ximenez, a friar and nurse at the Convent of San Domingo de Mexico, and published in Mexico in 1615. Because none of the handwritten copies that Hernández left in Mexico survived, Ximenez used a copy of Recchi's summary for this edition. Ximenez added some personal observations and removed the illustrations. The translation and new observations as to pharmaceutical methods, doses, and preparations showed an advance in knowledge over the original findings of Hernández, but they were not part of the broader European scientific revolution, which generally bypassed the Spanish science of the day.