Lavishly coloured copy of the first dated illustrated incunable in Switzerland with more than 270 woodcuts
36 Speculum humanae salvationis, German – Ein spiegel der menschlichen behaltnisze[Basel: Bernhard Richel, 31 August 1476.] Third German edition and the first dated illustrated printed book in Switzerland.
2°, 385 x 280 mm. 234 leaves (without the first blank); contemporary handwritten foliation in ink at the beginning of the text (fol. 3): I-CCXXXI. First printing state before the correction of some errors.Variant without the colophon otherwise printed in red in a separate process. A later (17th century?) hand added the colophon by transcribing it from another copy. As Pfister had no access to a copy of this state he interpreted it as 4th state of printing. Pfister also refers to a leaf at the end giving an index of the quires, but this is preserved only in the copy at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and must be interpreted as a supplement. – Two columns of 48 lines, headings on fol. 4r/v printed in red, otherwise in black. Rubricated throughout: capital letters marked in red, the printed initials coloured in red.With woodcut initials and 278 woodcuts in the text with brilliant contemporary colouring. – Fine copy. Occasional stains, tears to the margins expertly repaired. – Early 16th-century brown leather over wooden boards, covers blindstamped. Expertly restored: spine, edges and parts of the two claps amended.
PROVENANCE: 1.The following words are blindstamped on the back cover: “verbum Domini manet in eternum” (The word of the Lord lasts eternally, Isaiah 40: 8). This verse from the Bible had been the motto of Frederik the Wise and Philip of Hesse. Later on, in connection with the Schmalkaldische Bund (founded 1531), it became a motto of the Reformation. Hence in the 16th century the book belonged to a person associated with the Protestant movement. 2. Private collection, Europe.
TEXT: The book at hand represents the third German edition of the Speculum humanae salvationis (Mirror of Salvation), and the first printed in Switzerland, making it the earliest dated and illustrated printed book from that country. It belongs, according to Schramm, with the most important illustrated, early printed books from Basel, as regards both its artistic maturity and its sheer scope (cf. Schramm, p. 6). The Speculum humanae salvationis is an edifying text in Latin rhymed prose created around 1324 that recounts the events of the Gospels and the life of the Virgin Mary juxtaposing them with their prefigurations in the Old Testament. Written by a Dominican from the Strasbourg area, the Speculum fulfils one of the primary aspirations of that order, that of preaching to the people: each chapter was to serve as inspiration for a sermon. Furthermore, the book itself functions as a preacher bringing the story of the life of Christ to the illiterate by illustrating the text with large numbers of delicate woodcuts. Nearly 250 manuscripts have come down to us, in addition to block books and incunabula like this one and the dissemination of the Speculum’s imagery in other media further attests to its great popularity: the stained glass of St. Stephan at Mühlhouse in Alsace (c. 1350) and the Speculum tapestry of the Wienhausen monastery (c. 1420) are prominent examples. The text was initially printed in German in two Augsburg editions: the first published by Günther Zainer no later than 1473, in which the Latin text is supplemented by a German translation, and the second by Anton Sorg on 9 August 1476, only a few days before Richel’s edition of 31 August. The Basel incunable contains a unique version of the text, however: the Gospels and Epistles that are included in many manuscripts and incunable editions as an appendix were inserted by Richel between the various chapters of the Speculum.
ILLUSTRATION: Thus, Richel considerably increases the number of illustrations in his Speculum to produce a cycle, which is a magnificent example of early woodcut printing in Basel. The cuts are wonderfully expressive and focused on the essence of their subjects, in keeping with the traditions of 14th-century Upper-Rhenish and Alsatian art. Consequently, we would not assume that Zainer’s edition served as the model, but rather a Speculum manuscript of Alsatian origin similar to the one from Schlettstadt, now in Munich, (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, clm 146). There are many iconographic parallels between our edition and that manuscript, which is illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings from the 14th century. According to Pfister, three different draughtsmen are responsible for the design of the 278 woodcuts, which are made from 255 blocks and arranged in three consecutive groups; Master I: fol. 5-105v; Master II: fol. 105v-136v, and Master III: fol. 142-206.They decisively influenced the illustration of other French and German early printed books, paving the way, e. g. for the highly acclaimed woodcuts in the Speculum of Peter Drach (Speyer 1481). It seems that the original woodcuts of the Basel print were not reused for any later German edition, because the 255 blocks were acquired by Martin Huss, a Lyon printer of Basel origin. As early as 1478 he published the first French edition, Mirouer de la Rédemption, translating it from the Basel text and equipping it with the Basel woodcuts.
PRINTER: Bernard Richel was among the first three printers in Basel. He had established his printing shop there by 1472 at the very latest, and in addition to printing he distributed books, selling at markets and on journeys away from the city.The text of his Speculum edition is printed in his type 120 which also served as a model for the French and the Speyer editions. Roughly contemporaneous with the Speculum, but not dated, is Richel’s publication of Melusine, likewise illustrated with woodcuts.
RARITY: Rare. Most major European incunabula collections have one copy; in American libraries, however, we could trace only four copies.The book very seldom appears on the market: no copy is recorded in either the Jahrbuch der Auktionspreise 1950-2005 or the American Book Prices Current 1975-2004.
LITERATURE: Hain/Copinger 1895, no. 14936; Fairfax- Murray, German, no. 400; BMC III, p. 737; Schreiber no. 5274; Schramm 1920, XXI, no. 18-273; Pfister 1937; Goff 1964, S-664; Hieronymus 1972, no. 5;Arnim 1984, no. 318; BSB-Ink S-511; GW M43016; ISTC is00664000.