Unique copy of superb Franconian block-book
29 Der Antichrist und die fünfzehn Zeichen, block-bookNuremberg: Hans Briefmaler 1472 [i.e. Hans Sporer, 1470?]. Second xylographic block-book edition, preserved in this one copy only.
2°, 290 x 192 mm. 38 leaves, complete. Printed anopistographically, i.e. on only one side of the sheets.Watermarks:Two different bull’s heads without additions, damages at the horn, the ear, the eye and the nostril. – Partly coloured woodblock print with 54 illustrations in total. 27 of 54 illustrations show hints of blue colouring, some of crimson, a dark greenish yellow, sepia and light lilac-rose. – Over all in good condition. Modern pencil foliation in upper right corner. Small tears in the two outermost leaves delicately restored. – Thread sewing, preserved in a modern leather box, the original calf-leather binding of c. 1500 enclosed, which has been kept with it. Covers with double frame of blind-tooled lines, outer frame with circular stamps and rosettes, central panel on front cover with palmette stamp in rhomboid tendrils, central panel of back cover with two vertical rows of rosettes. Inside covered in pigskin before stamping. Inlay of spine replaced with strip of parchment. Dimensions of covers: 271 x 192/205 mm, i.e. too short both ways for the volume.They may have been trimmed earlier on.
PROVENANCE: The binding indicates a provenance from the Cistercian monastery of Heilsbronn (Kyriss: workshop 12, fl. c. 1469-1527). 2. Perhaps part of the books from Heilsbronn, which margrave Georg Friedrich of Ansbach-Bayreuth (1539-1603) acquired in 1578. Finally inherited by Ernst der Fromme of Sachsen-Gotha (1601-1675) who founded the Ducal library in 1647. 3. fol. 1a with stamp “Bibliotheca Ducalis Gothana”. 4. Sold in 1950 to M. Sinelnikoff/Orion Booksellers, London. 5. 1952-1958 private collection U.S.A. 6.Antiquariat August Laube, Zurich. 7. Collection Otto Schäfer, Schweinfurt, OS 125.
CONTENT: Our copy is the only known surviving example of the second block-book edition of this text. Block-books contain an inseparable combination of text and images that must be read together. Religious subjects, such as the Biblia pauperum, the Canticles, the Ars moriendi, the Speculum humanae salvationis or the Apocalypse dominate. The texts were often printed in German so as to make them accessible to lay people as well. The Antichrist und die fünfzehn Zeichen (Antichrist and the Fifteen Signs of Doomsday, here Entkrist) consists of a cycle of illustrations with explanatory texts. The text was compiled anonymously in the early 15th century, its principal sources being the Compendium theologicae veritatis by the Dominican Hugo Ripelin of Strasbourg (c. 1210) and the Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine (1228/30-1298). It relates the life of the Antichrist, a false prophet, whose dubious miracles and untrue teachings form a negative parallel to the life of the Saviour. His defeat is followed by the Last Judgement, related in Die 15 Zeichen vor dem Jüngsten Gericht, a self-contained treatise but one which was often combined with others, as in the present edition. This popular text depicts the Last Jugdement in alarming detail in order to kindle the reader’s fears and summon him to penitence. Its well-balanced woodcuts with dark outlines give the work a direct and pointed expressiveness. Sporer, the printer, appears to have executed his copies by tracing the outlines, as indicated by their exact congruence with the model, especially in the texts. Carving of the blocks was reduced by limiting the content of the images to the essential characters, omitting, for example, animals superfluous to a straightforward understanding of the picture.At the same time, landscapes were reduced to a simple line marking the horizon. PRINT: Both the richly illustrated contents and the technique of production lend a special appeal to block-books.The question of when and where block-books were invented is still unresolved, although due to their more ‘archaic’ printing technique block-books were long regarded as the forerunners to Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type in c. 1455.However, it is now generally accepted that the two reproduction methods existed side by side. One important advantage of block-books was the fact that the wood-blocks could be stored over a long period, whereas the typeset of a book printed with Gutenberg’s technique had to be broken up after printing in order to be reused, storage being too expensive. In contrast, block-books allowed for new copies to be printed on request – comparable to the modern principle of ‘publishing on demand’.
PRINTER: The imprint at the bottom of the first printed page gives the name of Hans Briefmaler, the place of printing, Nuremberg, and the date 147? (“Der jung hannß prieff maler hat das puch zu nurenberg o N 1° 4° 7° 2ff ”).The reading of the final figure of the date is not certain;Ferdinand Geldner and Bernhard Bischoff suggested the date 1470 (cf. von Arnim p. 68). In the later edition this figure and the place-name were erased from the wood block. Hans Briefmaler has been identified as Hans Sporer (Spoerer), who was active in Nuremberg between c. 1470 and 1474, where he produced single-leaf woodcuts and playing cards as well as several block-books. In 1487 and then from 1491 onwards he is documented as a printer in Bamberg where he issued mostly popular edifying and entertaining treatises. He was banned from Bamberg in 1494 for having published a satirical poem, after which he moved to Erfurt where he re-started his business.
RARITY: Rarissimum: the only recorded copy of this edition. Block-book editions of Der Antichrist und die fünfzehn Zeichen are extremely rare. The chiroxylographic edition survives in only one complete copy and a few single leaves. Of the first xylographic edition (“I” according to Schreiber) five copies plus seven fragments are recorded.The Antichrist printed by Hans Sporer is a copy of this edition, of which two variants are known:the one at hand is the earlier variant, printed anopisthographically and surviving only in this one copy. Sporer produced a later opistographic reprint, for which he used the same, meanwhile separated blocks. Of this reprint, too, only one copy exists (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Xyl. 2).
LITERATURE: Schreiber IX (manuel IV), p. 217-231, ed. II/1; Arnim 1984, Xylo-B; Verfasserlexikon I, col. 400f.; Gerhardt/Palmer 2002, K 16 b) c1. Kyriss 1951-58, pp. 16-17 and pl. 25; Geldner 1968, pp. 52-53; exh. cat. Mainz 1991.