31 October 1517: The Birth of Luther’s Reformation

Portrait of Martin Luther by an unknown artist. © The Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge

31 October 2017 marks exactly 500 years since Martin Luther sent a list of 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences to the Archbishop of Mainz. Tradition records that the Theses were also nailed to the West Door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. The publication initiated a heated discussion which rapidly spread throughout Europe and can be seen as the starting-point of the Reformation.

The Wren Library has particularly rich holdings of Luther’s writings, including more than 200 of the pamphlets he published in his lifetime, some of which are now exceptionally rare. Cambridge was a hotbed of Reformation dissent, but in fact none of the Lutheran publications in the Library can be associated with the University at that time — even less with Trinity, which was founded in the year of Luther’s death by one of his strongest opponents, Henry VIII. Several of the publications featured here arrived in the Wren in the mid-19th century, as part of the outstanding library of German books collected by the Venerable Julius Hare, Archdeacon of Lewes and formerly a Fellow of Trinity.

Decem praecepta Vuittenbergensi predicata populo per. P. Martinum Luther Augustinianum (Leipzig: Valentin Schumann, 1518). Hare 38.1831

Although Luther is most famous for promoting the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, it is notable that the Law of the Old Testament formed an important part of his theological thinking. This tract on the Ten Commandments is based on sermons which Luther delivered in Wittenberg in the year leading up to his proclamation of the 95 Theses. The depiction of Moses with horns is not a sign of demonic intent, but in fact arises from a mistranslation from the Hebrew which Luther was later to correct in his own translation of the Bible. According to Exodus 34 : 29, when Moses descended from Mount Sinai after his encounter with God, his face was ‘radiant’. The Latin Vulgate renders this Hebrew word as cornuta (‘horned’), possibly to express the idea that rays of light were shining from Moses’ face like horns.

Das ander teyl des alten testaments (Wittemberg : [M. Lotther], [1524]). A.10.12.
Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church by Pope Leo X after his refusal to recant his writings at the Diet of Worms in 1521. From May 1521 to March 1522, partly for his own safety, Luther resided at the Wartburg Castle outside Eisenach under the assumed name of Junker Jörg. During this time he began work on his translation of the complete Bible into German. The New Testament, translated from the Greek, was completed in 1522, and his work on the translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew, in which he worked with several collaborators, continued over several years. This second volume of the Old Testament, printed in 1524, comprises the books from Joshua to Nehemiah. It includes several woodcut illustrations attributed to Lucas Cranach and others.

Biblia, dat ys, de gantze hillige Schrifft Sassesch corrigeret, na der lesten vordüdeschinge [von] Mart. Luth. (Magdeburg: Michael Lotter, 1536). A.14.16.
This single-volume edition of the complete German Bible of Luther includes 117 woodcut illustrations by Georg Lemberger. Luther continued to make refinements to his translation until the edition of 1546, the year of his death.

Assertio septem sacramentorum aduersus Martin. Lutherū, ædita ab inuictissimo Angliæ et Franciæ rege, et do. Hyberniæ Henrico eius nominis octauo (London: In ædibus Pynsonianis, 1522). C.7.9.

Probably the most prominent of Luther’s opponents was King Henry VIII, who produced this lengthy polemical essay in response to the 95 Theses and Luther’s tract of 1520 On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church. Henry’s learned treatise won considerable acclaim from Pope Leo X, who granted the king the title Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith). This decorated copy, put together from a mixture of sheets from the first and second editions of 1521 and 1522, was owned by the notable Elizabethan book collector Humfrey Dyson.

Antwortt deutsch Mart. Luthers auff Koenig Henrichs von Engelland Buch (Wittenberg: Nickell Schyrlentz, 1522). Hare 38.1858.

Luther quickly responded to Henry VIII’s treatise with a pamphlet Contra Henricum Regem Angliae, of which this is the German edition. He argued among other things that the King’s reasoning was not fashioned so much from learned theology as from a desire to secure recognition from the Pope.

Fünff schoner Christlicher Sermon geprediget durch Doctor Martini Luther zu wittemberg. M.D.xxiii. Jare ([Augsburg]: [Ulhart], [1523]). Hare 38.18611.
This edition of five sermons on the Gospels of Matthew and John includes one of several versions of a familiar portrait of Luther.

Martin Luther, oder Die Weihe der Kraft: eine Tragödie, vom Verfasser der Söhne des Thales [i.e. Zacharias Martin Luther, oder Die Weihe der Kraft: eine Tragödie, vom Verfasser der Söhne des Thales [i.e. Zacharias Werner] (Berlin: Johann Daniel Sander, 1807). Hare 33.181.
Luther has been depicted in many different ways in subsequent centuries. This play, first staged in Berlin in 1806 under the title ‘Die Weihe der Kraft’ (‘The Consecration of Power’), achieved some degree of popularity in following years. Its author, Zacharias Werner, was a friend of Goethe and one of the first playwrights to develop the genre of the ‘tragedy of fate’. The five-act drama covers all of the major historical events in Luther’s life, and positions him as a figure in the national historical consciousness, at the time of the Napoleonic occupation. The facts are interwoven with fantasy, especially in the story of Luther’s courtship of Katharina von Bora, who is shown in the frontispiece hand in hand with her much older husband. A few years after writing this play, Werner converted to Catholicism and became a priest in Vienna.

Assertio septem sacramentorum: or, An assertion of the seven sacraments, against Martin Luther by Henry the Eighth; Faithfully translated into English by T.W. Gent. (London: Nath. Thompson, 1688). K.15.691.

Henry VIII’s publication against Luther had a continued resonance in the later development of the Church of England, where its defence of Catholic doctrine found occasional supporters. This later translation by Thomas Webster was published in 1688, the year of the overthrow of James II, the last Catholic monarch, by William and Mary.

These books will be on display in the Wren Library during public opening hours until the end of November 2017.

 

 

Italian Illuminated Incunabula

The Wren Library has always been famous for its outstanding collection of illuminated manuscripts. Less well known are the illuminations added by hand to many of its earliest printed books. A new catalogue of illuminations in Italian printed books of the fifteenth century in the Cambridge College libraries and the Fitzwilliam Museum has brought to light many previously unstudied creations of the Italian Renaissance. In this blog-post we take a look at some of the finer illuminations added to Italian books in Trinity’s collections.

In the earliest years of printing it was perhaps inevitable that the more luxurious publications would be decorated in a very similar manner to the manuscripts which continued to be created alongside them, and in some cases the work of the same artist can be identified in both manuscripts and printed books. Several of the most elaborately decorated volumes in Trinity come from the collection of William Grylls (1786–1863), a Scholar of Trinity and West Country clergyman who bequeathed his outstanding library of more than 14,000 books to the College.

 

Macrobius, Expositio in Somnium Scipionis, Saturnalia (Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 1472)
VI.18.52, fol. [a2]r
This very fine edition was printed on parchment and illuminated in Venice in 1473, a few months after its publication. The shield at the centre of the bottom margin bears the arms of the great philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, whose Oration on the Dignity of Man has been called the ‘Manifesto of the Renaissance’. It is most likely that this book was presented to Pico della Mirandola on the occasion of his appointment as Apostolic Protonotary in 1473, at the age of ten. The book was rebound while in the collection of Thomas, 8th Earl of Pembroke, and was later owned by the famous collector Henry Yates Thompson, whose widow presented it to Trinity in 1928.

 

Biblia latina (Venice: Franciscus Renner de Heilbronn and Nicolaus de Frankfordia, 1476)
Grylls 2.145, fol. [a2]r
The printers of this Latin Vulgate Bible reserved a large space at the beginning of the Prologue for a portrait of St Jerome. This copy has been decorated by the same artist as the Macrobius shown above, active in Venice in the 1470s and known today as the Master of the Pico Pliny. The spraywork borders are of particularly fine execution.

 

St Jerome, Epistolae, in Italian (Ferrara: Laurentius de Rubeis de Valentia, 12 October 1497)
Grylls 3.444, fols K3v–K4r

The design of the woodcuts in this edition of the letters of St Jerome has been attributed to the Master of the Pico Pliny, the artist of the Macrobius and Vulgate Bible above, but was executed in Ferrara some 20 years later. This page displays St Jerome presenting his monastic Rule to a kneeling monk with halo, and ‘S Martim’ giving the Rule to a group of nuns. All of the almost 200 woodcut illustrations in this copy have been tinted in green, red and blue, with initial letters painted in gold with vine-scroll decoration. This book was owned by the Augustinian church and monastery of Sant’Andrea in Ferrara, and later entered the hands of the notorious librarian and book thief Guglielmo Libri.

 

Orosius, Historiae adversus paganos ([Vicenza]: Hermannus Liechtenstein, [c. 1475])
Grylls 3.459, fol. [a2]r
The magnificent architectural border of mottled marble on this opening page was executed by Giovanni Vendramin (fl. 1466–1508), who worked for the bishop of Padua and for other clients in Venice. The lion rampant on the shields borne by the two female figures seem to be of the Sterpino family, perhaps also signalled by the initials ‘C S’ in the base. The final page of this book includes a note summarising the decoration supplied, in order to calculate payment to the artist: 14x lettere / 7 doro / io principio, that is to say, 140 red or blue epigraphic capitals, 7 gold initials, and one frontispiece.

 

Pliny the Elder, Historia naturalis, Italian trans. by Cristoforo Landino
(Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 1476) Grylls 2.185, fol. [c2]r
This translation of Pliny’s major work was printed in Venice and illuminated in Rome, probably for a member of the Boccaccio family in Florence whose arms are partly erased on the page displayed. The gold initial ‘E’ is surrounded by vine-scroll decoration, and a green parrot sits proudly in the outer margin. A later owner has attempted to wash away the marginal commentary added throughout this volume by an early reader, while preserving the ornamental additions.

 

Dante, La Commedia, with commentary by Jacopo della Lana ([Venice]:
Vindelinus de Spira, 1477) VI.16.20, fol. a3r
The pink initial ‘N’ with acanthus motifs at the opening of Dante’s Inferno is strongly influenced by Ferrarese illumination, which came to be dominant in Padua in the 1470s. The coat of arms in the lower margin of this page has been overpainted, and may belong to Battista de’ Negri of Venice, who inscribed the book perhaps around 1500. This copy, which is preserved in its 15th-century binding, was presented to Trinity in 1895 by the widow of the judge Sir William Frederick Pollock, who published a verse translation of Dante.

 

Bartolommeo dalli Sonetti (Zamberto), Isolario
(Venice: Guilelmus Anima Mia, Tridinensis?, c.1485) Grylls 3.355

The woodcut prints in this volume of maps of the islands of the Aegean Sea were coloured in rather crude style shortly after the book was printed. This map of Crete is printed in the opposite direction to most modern maps, with South at the top. This copy bears the armorial binding of the poet and statesman Marco Foscarini, who served as the 117th Doge of Venice in the 18th century.

These books will be on display in the Wren Library during public opening hours until the end of November 2017.

 

700 Manuscripts Online

B.4.19, f.184r

The 700th manuscript added to the online James Catalogue is B.4.19. We are pleased to have reached this milestone in the same year that Trinity College is celebrating 700 years since the establishment of the King’s Scholars in Cambridge. In 1317 King Edward II sent 12 boys from the royal household, with a master, to study at Cambridge at his expense. They lived in rented accommodation. Twenty years later, Edward III transformed this community into a college by giving it a permanent house and endowment. He named this college the King’s Hall.  Appropriately this volume has the name of a contemporary archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Mepeham, inscribed on the second flyleaf (he was archbishop from 1328-1333). B.4.19 is a Biblical Commentary by St Thomas Aquinas on the gospels of Luke and John. Its companion volume is  B.4.18 on the gospels of Matthew and Mark.

The opening pages of both volumes are illuminated with initals showing a kneeling St Thomas, wearing his black Dominican habit, presenting his book to Pope Urban IV. This image is also repeated on f.184r of B.4.19 (shown above). The delightful borders of these illuminated pages are populated with dogs chasing rabbits, a deer and a goat (see here) and a lion with a bird above in a tree (see here).

Each gospel begins with an historiated initial. These are initials containing an identifiable scene or figure and in these instances depict the evangelist with their symbol.

B.4.18, f.3r (Matthew; symbol: a winged man or angel)

 

B.4.18, f.224v (Mark; symbol: a lion)

 

B.4.19, f. 1r (Luke; symbol: an ox)

 

B.4.19, f.184v (John; symbol: an eagle)

Both volumes date from the late-13th century and were originally in the library of Christ Church, Canterbury. They were given to Trinity College Library, along with over one hundred other manuscripts, by a former master of the College, Thomas Nevile (d. 1615).