The Noble, Great, and Cleansing Liberation from All Sins through the Buddha

This marvelous manuscript contains a Mahayana Sutra text from the Kanjur (Translation of the words of the Buddha), i.e., the scriptures of Tibetan Buddhism. It is especially remarkable because it was not translated directly from Sanskrit, like so many other works of the Kanjur, but from Chinese. The translators obviously had no original text from which to work. Accordingly, they did not give the work a Sanskrit title, as was usually the case. Manuscripts containing only this text are very rare, and even in this case a further work has been added, with the second manuscript starting at folio 214. The second work, consisting of 13 folios, is 'Phags-pa bzang-po spyod-pa'i smon-lam-gyi rgyal-po (in Sanskrit, Bhadracaryapranidhana-raja) or, “The King of Vows of Good Conduct.” The manuscript is magnificently crafted with writing in gold on black lacquer paper. The cover is made up of several layers of paper coated with a textile tissue material. The front leaf has been inserted into the cover. The text is protected by three differently colored silk curtains. In the center of this leaf is a small miniature depicting Buddha Shakyamuni. The leaves repose in a readers’ receptacle wrapped in red cloth. The whole is tied together by a band with a metal fastener displaying the head of a demon.

Art of Dying

Block books are slim volumes, typically comprising 20 to 50 pages, produced by cutting text and images into wooden blocks (a process known as xylography). The production of block books reached its peak at a time when printing with metal letters (moveable type) was already established, around the 1460s–1470s. Worldwide only about 600 block book copies have survived, and they are among the rarest and most precious products of the printing press. The Bavarian State Library holds 40 of these books and eight fragments. Only a limited number of copies could be printed from the same woodblocks, as they were easily damaged in the process of printing or during storage. Particularly popular works therefore were reprinted from recut blocks as early as the 15th century. The Ars moriendi (Art of dying) serves the purpose of preparing the reader for the moment of death. This was a central medieval topic, since few things were dreaded more than a sudden death for which the victim was unprepared. On two sets of ten plates each, grouped in pairs and each with images and text, this book illustrates the temptations that the dying person suffers and provides guidance on how to escape each of these temptations. The 20 plates are preceded by a prologue on two plates and followed by an epilogue illustrating, on two plates, the triumph over death.

The Dance of Death

Block books are slim volumes, typically comprising 20 to 50 pages, produced by cutting text and images into wooden blocks (a process known as xylography). The production of block books reached its peak at a time when printing with metal letters (moveable type) was already established, around the 1460s–1470s. Worldwide only about 600 block book copies have survived, and they are among the rarest and most precious products of the printing press. The Bavarian State Library holds 40 of these books and eight fragments. Totentanz (The dance of death) covers a similar topic to the Ars moriendi (The art of dying): the sudden death that anybody can suffer, irrespective of worldly rank. On each of the 24 images a personification of Death dances with a person from a different social position, leading the individual out of life. The series of victims starts with a pope and an emperor, continues with an abbot, a nobleman and a farmer, and finishes with a helpless child and his mother. Only two copies of the block book version of the Totentanz are known: this one at the Bavarian State Library in Munich, and a volume in the library of the University of Heidelberg. The two copies represent different editions, and the images have many differences. The copy shown here has some unique features. The text, which was originally placed below the illustrations, was trimmed, the images were cut out and glued onto larger sheets, and the text was reproduced by hand. Based on codicological evidence, this was done in the third quarter of the 15th century, shortly after the production of the book.

The Heroic Life of Sir Theuerdank

Among the many endeavors undertaken by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519) to further his legacy was his plan of an epic retelling of his own life story in the form of several works. Of these, only Die geuerlicheiten vnd einsteils der geschichten des loblichen streytparen vnd hochberümbten helds vnd Ritters herr Tewrdannckhs (The heroic life of Sir Theuerdank) was finished. Johann Schönsperger, a printer in Nuremberg, did the first, very small print run in 1517, to be delivered to other princes and sovereigns after the Emperor's death. Written by Melchior Pfintzing based on material provided by Emperor Maximilian, the Theuerdank tells the adventures of Sir Theuerdank (Maximilian) who, while travelling to his bride, the beautiful Lady Ernreich (Mary of Burgundy), has to face and overcome 80 obstacles. Each of the 118 chapters is decorated by a xylograph (wood engraving). The preparatory drawings for the xylographs were created by the artists Leonhard Beck, Hans Schäufelein, and Hans Burgkmair the Elder. The black-letter type of the Theuerdank, designed by calligrapher Vinzenz Rockner, was to become very influential for the development of German typography.

Book of Animals

The artist, engraver, xylographer, publisher, and entrepreneur Jost Amman (1539–91) was involved in a huge number of printing projects, several of them together with the Frankfurt-based publisher Sigmund Feyerabend. One such project was the Thierbuch (Book of animals). Printed for the first time in 1569, it comprises nearly 100 woodcuts executed by Amman, based on designs by the Augsburg painter Hans Bocksberger the Younger. The illustrations feature 70 different kinds of animals, including domestic animals (such as horse, ox, and pig), wild animals (such as bear, fox, and eagle), exotic beasts (such as baboon, parrot, and turkey), and even mythical beasts (such as dragon, unicorn, and phoenix). Each illustration is accompanied by a short poem written by the Munich poet Georg Schaller. The poems combine facts and legends from ancient authors as well as from contemporary emblematic literature. The book seems to have been quite successful, and was reprinted in 1592 and in 1617. The copy presented here is from the edition of 1592.

Book of Armaments of Emperor Maximilian I

This manuscript forms part of the many endeavors undertaken by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519) to further his legacy. Compiled by Bartholomaeus Freysleben, the Hauszeugmeister (imperial master of armaments), it describes the several imperial armories of the emperor, detailing the additions of modern artillery and weaponry that were made during Maximilian's reign. Underlining its purpose as a presentational work rather than a simple inventory, the manuscript was lavishly illuminated, with the involvement of the imperial court painter Jörg Kölderer (circa 1465–1540). The history of the manuscript is not known. It is possibly a copy of the original, which at some point in the 16th century came into the possession of the Free Imperial City of Ratisbon (present-day Regensburg). Although incomplete, it was bound and incorporated into the city library. In 1812 it was transferred from Regensburg to the Bavarian State Library.

Ship of Fools

Das Narrenschiff (Ship of fools) by the Basel lawyer Sebastian Brant (1458–1521) was one of the first lavishly illustrated works to be printed in the German language in the 15th century and one of the most popular. Following the first edition, which was printed in 1494 by Brant’s old university friend Johann Bergmann, Brant’s satire on human foolishness became a European bestseller. By 1574, more than 40 editions of the text had appeared, including translations into Latin, French, English, Dutch, and Low German. The text describes a fictitious sea voyage of 112 fools, each representing a certain type of human misconduct, to the promised land of “Narragonia.” The succession of fools is led by the foolish reader: convinced of his learning, he is engaged in chasing away the flies buzzing around his desk piled with books, but he does not open the books to gain knowledge. Brant does not so much criticize foolishness as remaining foolish by failing to recognize one’s own shortcomings. One of the reasons for the work’s great success was undoubtedly the high-quality woodcuts that introduce and complement the text. Among the artists with whom Brant collaborated on this work was the young Albrecht Dürer, who soon after the completion of this work left Basel for Nuremberg. The book is at the Bavarian State Library in Munich, Germany.

The Sibyls and Prophets Foretelling Christ the Savior

This manuscript, entitled Sibyllae et prophetae de Christo Salvatore vaticinantes (The sibyls and prophets foretelling Christ the Savior), is possibly a product of the workshop of the French illuminator Jean Poyer (circa 1445–1504) of Tours. The sibyls were female seers from the ancient world whose prophecies it was thought foretold the coming of Christ. This work consists of 25 large illuminations: a depiction of Noah's ark and 12 double-page spreads. The left side of each of the double pages depicts one of the sibyls, who is paired on the right side with a scene from the life of Christ and the history of salvation that she was said to have prophesied. The scenes on the right are accompanied by an Old Testament prophet and an evangelist. The manuscript probably was acquired by Elector Maximilian I of Bavaria (1573–1651), more as a work of art than a book. It therefore was kept in the elector’s art collection. Only in 1785 was it incorporated into the library.

Combat Manual of 1467

This 1467 manuscript Fechtbuch (Combat manual) provides instructions for various methods of fighting, without armor and wearing different kinds of armor, and on foot and on horseback. A series of annotated illustrations is devoted to combat with swords, daggers, pikes, and other weapons. Even the rules for a trial by combat between a man and a woman are included. The author, Hans Talhoffer (circa 1420–circa 1490), was regarded in his time as an unbeatable swordsman and one of the finest teachers of the so-called German school of fencing. Because of his reputation, many noblemen sought his services as an advisor and teacher. Among them was the first duke of Württemberg, Eberhard the Bearded (1445–96), who commissioned this manuscript. The manuscript itself has a curious history: originally forming part of the library of the dukes of Bavaria, it was stolen during the Thirty Years' War and ended up in Gotha. Only in 1951 was it again sold to the Bavarian State Library, where it is now preserved.

Theological Miscellany, Circa 764-83

This miscellany manuscript was written in the time of Bishop Arbeo (circa 764–83) in the Bavarian diocesan town of Freising. It is remarkable especially for its script, a form of Anglo-Saxon minuscule, and its typically insular decoration: initials are adorned with animals and interlace patterns and surrounded by red dots. These insular features must be attributed to an English scribe active in the Freising scriptorium at that time, which is remarkable because Freising lay outside the area where the influence of English missionaries was strong in the eighth century. Unusually for this early period, the name of the scribe has come down to us. In other manuscripts in this hand, the scribe added a colophon at the end of his work, in which he mentioned his name: Peregrinus (“Pilgrim”). The Latin text includes writings by Isidore of Seville (circa 560–636), including his Synonyma, a spiritual meditation. Saint Isidore, Archbishop of Seville, was a scholar and theologian who is considered the last of the great Latin Church Fathers. His work would have been known to the Anglo-Saxon missionaries who played the major role in spreading Christianity to Germany in the eighth century.