November 9, 2011

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).