The Frankfort Bible

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Virgil Solis

1514 – Nuremberg – 1562

The Frankfurt Bible

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Old Testament / The Prophets / New Testament:

three volumes in one, with three title pages: fol. [6], A-B4, C2, pp. 1–353, [Prophets title-page], 2–241, [New Testament title-page], 242–410, fol. [5]; the portrait of Otto Heinrich, Count Palatine (Hollstein 15.2) that follows the first title-page, is missing; the portrait of Ottheinrich’s successor Friedrich is listed by Hollstein only for the 1561 and later editions (Hollstein 18.3) although it was apparently already part of this first edition of 1560 (cf. the copy in the Staatsbibliothek in Munich, Rara 359)

with 164 (of either 165 or 166) woodcuts printed from 185 blocks, colored throughout by the illuminator Philipp Eberhardt Lehmann; each of the three parts is annotated by Lehmann and dated December 1623, January 1624, and February 1624, respectively

printed by David Zephelius [David Zöpfel], Johann Raschen [Johannes Rasch], and Sigmund Feyerabend, Frankfurt am Main 1560

Hollstein, pp. 140–176, book illustrations no. 15 with sub-numbers 15.1 to 15.165;

VD 16, B2747–2748

With the publication of this bible, a consortium of three printers under the leadership of Sigmund Feyerabend tried to break the monopoly held by the Wittenberg printers on Martin Luther’s German translation of the bible. Modelled after Hans Lufft’s complete edition of 1545, the Frankfurt Bible was published in 1560. The lavish scrollwork frames of Virgil Solis’s illustrations mark a notable departure from the more text- and image-oriented Wittenberg tradition; they include many pagan motifs such as owls and rams and fantastic creatures like satyrs and were—not surprisingly—roundly criticized, most famously by Christoph Walther, the chief editor in Lufft’s workshop. In 1571 Walther published an entire pamphlet attacking what he called the “false” bibles coming out of Frankfurt, Antwort Auff Sigmund Feyerabends vnd seiner Mitgesellschafft falsches angeben vnd Luegen (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft 1571), in which he meticulously lists all the textual changes between the Wittenberg and Frankfurt editions. He points out editorial and orthographical mistakes, not failing to remark that Feyerabend included “lose Figuren … mit Leisten verbremet” (loose [i.e. unchaste] illustrations padded with frames; quoted in Heimo Reinitzer, Biblia deutsch. Luthers Bibelübersetzung und ihre Tradition, exhibition catalogue, Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel/Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg, 1983–84; p. 240, no. 146 for the 1561 edition of the Frankfurt Bible).

In his history of the illustrations to Luther’s translation of the bible, Schmidt counts the Frankfurt Bible “among the very best within the Protestant heritage” (Philipp Schmidt, Die Illustration der Lutherbibel 1522–1700, Basel 1962, p. 245).

Colored copies of the bible were usually part of a luxury edition. Examples were often presented by the publisher to influential members of the German aristocracy as proof of his abilities—in German dealers’ catalogues such coloring is therefore usually referred to as Fürstenkolorit. Ours, however, is a regular copy that the proud owner arranged to have illuminated. The otherwise undocumented “Philips Eberhardt Lehman” meticulously colored every woodcut by hand. We also have a good idea of the timeframe of his work based on his own annotations. He started the coloring on December 29, 1623 and had the Old Testament and Book of Prophets finished by February 7, 1624; the following day he started work on the New Testament.

The survival rate of luxury editions is often far higher than that of ordinary editions since they were always kept in noble libraries. Hollstein mentions two “superbly colored” copies (Staatsbibliothek Berlin and Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Munich) as well as two “colored” copies (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Munich and Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel). It is highly unusual to find a commoner’s copy like ours that an owner paid to have colored more than 60 years after it was printed and that is signed and even dated by the illuminator. It not only provides us with a fascinating document of the reception history of bibles in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but also demonstrates that the mid-sixteenth century style of coloring remained popular well into the following century. And if it were not for the exact dates noted by Philipp Eberhardt Lehmann, there would indeed be no way for us to know that the coloring of our copy of Feyerabend’s 1560 bible is not strictly contemporary.

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