October 27, 2016

Three Texts on Architecture from Classical Antiquity: The Books of Vitruvius, Raphael’s Letter to Pope Leo X, Fragments of Writing

The ideas of the High Renaissance were realized in Rome during the papacy of Leo X (1513‒21), a great patron of the arts from the house of Medici. The artist Raphael (1483‒1520), who worked in Rome from 1508, obtained a number of important commissions in this period. After Bramante’s death in 1514, he was appointed architect of the rebuilding of Saint Peter’s Cathedral and subsequently also as inspector of Rome’s ancient ruins. Raphael used the works of classical antiquity to help solve practical architectural problems. He took the humanist Fabio Calvo into his home to translate for him the architectural text book of the great Roman Vitruvius. He then set about reconstructing the plan of the ancient city of Rome by means of surveys and excavations. The manuscript presented here contains Calvo’s translations of Vitruvius into Italian. Bound with these manuscripts is the text of the famous letter to Leo X containing an appeal for the preservation of the ancient Roman monuments. Raphael is now known with certainty to be author of this letter, probably with some assistance from the Italian courtier and writer Baldassare Castiglione. The letter clearly sets out a method of recording buildings in plan, elevation, and cross-section. Work on Raphael’s project was cut short by his early death and by the sack of Rome in 1527, but this letter remains notable as the foundation of scientific archaeology. At one time owned by Pietro Vettori, these two important manuscripts later were acquired by the Palatinate and Bavarian elector Karl Theodor for the court library in 1783.

Stöger Passion: The Suffering of Christ

The so-called Stöger Passion is the first book to have been printed in Bavaria and probably the very first illustrated incunabulum, predating even Albrecht Pfister’s edition of Boner’s Edelstein dated February 14, 1461 as well as Pfister’s Biblia pauperum (Paupers’ Bible) of circa 1462‒63. The book is named after Franz Xaver Stöger the Younger, most likely the son of a Munich auctioneer, who since 1831 had good business contacts with the Munich library and first publicized the work in 1833. The book was printed with movable type similar to those used in the 36-line Bible and in the Gutenberg Bible and which were also used in a Viennese almanac for the year 1462. It is decorated with 20 metal cuts illustrating the Passion of Christ. Preceding the Stöger Passion, the volume contains an edition of the Seven Joys of Mary, printed with the same type and similarly illustrated with metal cuts. The Munich copy is the only complete example of this work, of which seven different editions are known, six in German and one in Italian. Before being used for print works, the metal cuts had been employed to illustrate handwritten prayer books. Created before this edition was printed in 1461, they are similar to images by the Meister der Spielkarten (Master of the Playing Cards), an artist who was active in the area of the upper Rhine, and therefore have often been seen as originating in this region. However, as printed images were highly mobile—this particular artist’s designs were in fact distributed from England to Vienna—and as the manuscripts and printed editions of this text were written in a central Bavarian dialect, the metal cuts may also have originated in Bavaria. The first edition of the small prayer book with its metal-cut illustrations was so successful that a copy of it was soon made, which, in turn, was used to produce similar books with handwritten or xylographic text.

An Admonition to Christendom against the Turks

In the aftermath of the capture of Constantinople by the Turks under Sultan Mehmed II on May 29, 1453, numerous writers in Europe called on the rulers of Europe to defend Christendom. The new art of printing lent itself to the propagation of such calls. Accordingly, it was in the workshop of Johann Gutenberg, the printer of the famous 42-line Bible that bears his name, that the first political pamphlet in the German language on this topic was printed with the title Eyn manung der cristenheit widder die durken (An admonition to Christendom against the Turks). The pamphlet survives in a single copy in the collections of the Bavarian State Library. It is the oldest completely intact print produced with the movable printing type known as Gutenberg’s “Urtype” or the “Donat-Kalender-Type.” The small booklet containing six leaves in quarto format is also known as the Türkenkalender (Turkish calendar), as Gutenberg presented it in the form of a calendar structured in accordance with the 12 new moons of the year 1455. After an introductory prayer, for each of the months the calendar exhorts a clerical or secular prince to resist the Turks. The concluding verses for the month of December announce news of a recent victory against the enemy, spread through a letter written by Pope Nicholas V on October 25, 1454, to the Diet in Frankfurt, the intent of which was to encourage the assembly to join arms against the Turks. However, the letter failed in its purpose since it arrived in Frankfurt too late for the Diet session and was instead read on December 6, 1454, to the assembly of towns and cities which had subsequently gathered in Frankfurt. The Türkenkalender ends with a prayer and a New Year’s wish for the year 1455—the first such salutation known. Because in Mainz the New Year was reckoned to begin on Christmas Day, the production of this print can be determined with relative exactitude as having taken place in 1454, after the 6th and before the 25th of December. The unique copy of the Türkenkalender originally belonged to the humanist Konrad Peutinger (1465–1547). It was discovered in the Jesuit college in Augsburg in 1806, from where it subsequently came to Munich.

Serlio's "Eighth Book of Architecture"

Sebastiano Serlio (1475‒1554) was born in Bologna and trained as a painter and architect in Rome and Venice. From 1541 he worked in France, at Fontainebleau and Lyons. Serlio’s enduring importance lies in his theoretical writings on architecture, which represent an important source for Italian and French Renaissance architecture. Most of his planned eight Libri de architettura (Books of architecture) appeared in print during his lifetime. Two manuscripts remained unpublished, however, and as early as 1571 entered the newly founded library of Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria. Not until 1966 was one of them, the Sesto libro (Sixth book; Bavarian State Library, Cod. icon. 189) published in facsimile. The other codex, shown here, contains Serlio’s sketches for his Ottavo libro (Eighth book), on the construction of fortifications, which derives from the description of a Roman camp in the universal history of the Greek historian Polybius. Most important is its inclusion of “Della castramentatione di Polibio ridutta in una citadella murata” (The reconstruction of a Roman military camp described by Polybius as a walled citadel,  folio 1), the plan of which, taken from a military settlement surveyed in “Datia,” (the Roman province of Dacia) had been procured for him by Marino Grimani, patriarch of Aquileia. Serlio sketched for it detailed plans and elevations of individual buildings, in accordance with his conceptions of classical architecture.

Koberger Bible

After the Mentelin Bible dated to 1466, the Koberger Bible of 1483 is the ninth German-language version of the Bible to have been printed and the second to have been produced in Nuremberg, after the Sensenschmidt Bible of circa 1476‒78. For the rich decoration of his edition, Anton Koberger (circa 1440‒1513) used the woodcuts made for the Bible printed in Cologne by Bartholomaeus of Unckel in 1478‒79, which he himself had helped to finance. The first woodcut, preceding the book of Genesis, depicts the creation of Eve in Paradise and almost fills an entire page. Unlike Günther Zainer, who had already used woodcut historiated initials in his Bible of 1475‒76, Koberger allowed for painted initials to be supplied by a rubricator or illuminator. Like other copies of this edition, the one shown here was richly illuminated with tempera colors and punched-gold grounds as well as more than 70 initial letters with tempera, gold or silver, and acanthus-leaf decorations to mark the beginning of each biblical book and the apostolic letters. The initials at the beginning of Genesis (folio 5 recto) and Proverbs (folio 296 recto) are particularly lavishly decorated, with busts of the prophets, angels bearing empty crests and animals integrated in the foliate extensions. The painter was trained in the school of Johann Bämler in Augsburg (circa 1435–circa 1503). Miniatures closely resembling those in the Koberger Bible are contained in a manuscript missal dated to 1490 at the Austrian National Library in Vienna. Whether the illuminator worked in Augsburg or in Nuremberg can only be determined after a more extensive investigation of the decoration of incunabula printed by Koberger. At the least, it seems that the copy in the Württembergische Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart was colored and illuminated by a different painter, who very likely worked for Koberger in Nuremberg.

Nautical Atlas of Battista Agnese

Battista Agnese (1514‒64) was a masterful geographer and mapmaker. Born in Genoa, he worked in Venice from 1536 to 1564 and became one of the most important figures in Renaissance cartography. Researchers differ on the total number of manuscript atlases created by Agnese; he produced at least 39 portolan, or maritime, atlases, ten of them signed and dated. All are distinguished by their neat calligraphy and are esteemed for their high quality and beauty. None was intended for use on board ship; they served as ceremonial gifts and as adornments to the libraries of the well-to-do. This atlas contains 20 pages of maps. A heraldic bookplate of the court library in Munich appears at the front of the book, followed by declination tables and the zodiac. On the oval world map, the continents appear in green, with somewhat speculative outlines of North and South America. Cherubs, or wind heads, representing the classical twelve-point winds from which modern compass directions evolved surround the map. Other maps show the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, and the Baltic, Mediterranean, and Black Seas. Characteristic of all Agnese atlases are the routes of travels recorded on the map of the world. The Munich copy presented here shows, in blue, Magellan’s voyage from Lisbon, through the straits named after him, to the Moluccas, and the return voyage of the one surviving ship around the Cape of Good Hope (1519–22). A second line—faintly discernible, originally inscribed in silver—traces Pizarro’s voyage of 1521, which started from Cadiz, Spain, and crossed the Isthmus of Panama to reach the west coast of South America, thus inaugurating the Spanish conquest of Peru.