ULRICH VON POTTENSTEIN (c.1360-1417): Das Buch der natürlichen Weisheit, German translation of 'CYRILLUS': Speculum sapientiae, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON PAPER
[Bavaria], 1453 262 x 194mm. i + 88 + i leaves: 110(of 12, lacking xii, ?i cancelled blank), 2-712, 84, 92(both singletons), one catchword and tops of some decoration in lower margins of final versos, 30-33 lines written in black ink in a German bastarda in two columns between two verticals and two horizontals ruled in ink, justification: 203 x 66-19-67mm, headings in red, text capitals and flourishing touched red, two-line initials in red, one five-line initial in silver on a purple ground with a green infill and frame, with border extension of a green stem and leaves with purple buds, EIGHTY-FOUR MINIATURES IN WATERCOLOUR AND BODY COLOUR IN PINK RECTANGULAR FRAMES, most of single-column width (lacking one leaf with miniature, already missing in the 19th century, repairs to margins on ff.1, 2 and 23, repaired tear into text f.4, slight staining to text on some leaves, some smudging to miniature f.7v, slight staining to miniatures ff.27v, 31v, 53, 55, 59v, 82, trimmed into side flourishings and peacock's tail overlapping miniature frame f.49). 19th-century brown leather, spine in seven compartments gilt, gilt lettering pieces (worn).
The scribe dated his work in the colophon on f.88v: Et sic est finis per mano Johannis Mör de Costancia anno 1453. The dialect is Bavarian with a touch of Alemannic, presumably contributed by John Mör (for details, see U. Bodemann, Die Cyrillusfabeln und ihre deutsche Übersetzung durch Ulrich von Pottenstein, 1988, pp.67-8). He is most unlikely to have signed as 'of Constance' unless he was living outside the city: the border decoration on f.1 seems more typical of Bavaria, perhaps Regensburg. This is the only manuscript by him recorded by the Benedictines of Bouveret (Colophons des manuscrits occidentaux des origines au XVIe siècle, III, 1973, no 10684). Of the two watermarks, both of balances, one is identifiable as Piccard Waage I, 36, used in Venice in 1451.
Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Barrois (1784-1855), who 'collected' from some of Europe's greatest libraries as well as through the market; his collection bought in 1849 by Bertram, 4th Earl of Ashburnham (1797-1878); Ashburnham Place, Ms Barrois 487, recorded in the Ashburnham Library under the 5th Earl of Ashburnham (1840-1913) by R. Priebsch, Deutsche Handschriften in England, I, 1896, pp.4-5, no 3; Ashburnham Sale, Sotheby's London, 10-14 June 1901, lot 20; Quaritch, Catalogue 211, 1902, no 118; Robert Busch of Mainz, his sale, II. Teil: Illuminierte Manuscripte, Baer, Frankfurt, 1921, lot 259; Constance, Private Collection; German Private Collection, when included in E.Moser ed., Buchmalerei im Bodenseeraum 13, bis 16. Jahrhundert, 1997, no KO 31, p.280.
Ulrich von Pottenstein, Das Buch der natürlichen Weisheit, the Prologue, Books 1-IV, fable 1, arranged as two books, ff.1-88v: headed Hie heben sich an die vier Angell, opening Der hochwebent in natürleichen chunsten Maister Aristotoles, f.1; the first fable Von eynem Raben und Fuchs, f.1v; lacking the end of Book I, Fable 11, and the beginning of I, 12, between ff.10-11; explicit to Book I, f.26v; heading Nun hebt sich das ander puch ain, f.27, the remaining fables then run without further division; what is usually III 27, on the Dog and the Wolf, has been moved to follow IV 1.
The Speculum sapientiae, a very popular collection of fables, attributed to a notional Bishop Saint Cyrillus, was perhaps the work of Bongiovanni da Messina, an Italian Dominican writing between 1337 and 1347. The fables, mostly featuring animals and natural phenomena, were structured within a Christian moral framework, despite their origins in pagan antiquity with those attributed to Aesop. Ulrich von Pottenstein, canon of Vienna Cathedral and holder of various parishes before ending his days in Enns near Lorsch, made his German translation between about 1411 and his death in 1417. Its success continued into the age of printing and it had an illustrious afterlife in the work of the Meistersinger, Hans Sachs, who knew his fables and their pithy proverbial summaries in Ulrich's translation.
Ulrich's work survives in two versions: the earlier, known from only four copies, was rapidly overtaken by the later, expanded version of which 16 manuscripts are known, mostly originating in Austria or southern Germany. The second version exists in two main families, of which the present lot, the Ashburnham copy, belongs to Z, where its closest neighbours are manuscripts in London (BL, Egerton 1121) and Eger (Diocesan Library, Cod. U2.III.3). Either Johannes Mör himself, or the exemplum he followed, rearranged the text into two books, omitting ten fables from Book IV, and abbreviated some fables from the middle of Book II onwards (Bodemann, pp.126-30, 215). This is THE ONLY COPY OF THE SECOND VERSION STILL IN PRIVATE HANDS: one copy of the first version is also owned privately (see A newly discovered Illustrated Manuscript of the Cyrillus Fables, Antiquariaat Forum and Les Enluminures, 1, 1998; the copy listed by Bodemann in the Archiv der Grafen Trapp, Churburg, is now Munich. BSB, Clm 30069 ).
Illustration seems fundamental to the success of Ulrich's translation. Whereas the Latin original was rarely illustrated, only three of the 20 German manuscripts known were not intended to have miniatures. In the Ashburnham copy, the illuminator has imbued the animals with great character: their assertive liveliness is often increased by their jaunty overlapping of the frames, giving an added cheekiness, for instance, to the mouse confronting the lion and fox, I 18, f.16v. The cautious mule, on the other hand, has only three hooves on the frame as he keeps out of the picture and out of the rash horse's fight, II 5, f.30v. The humans, whether personifications or a character like the Actor, are drawn with equal confidence to interact through gesture and expression, most touchingly when Body reaches up to Soul like a welcoming lover, II 2, f.27v.
The bold outlines and colour wash are typical of many German manuscripts on paper but a richer effect is achieved here through the use of some body colour and internal modelling. The content of the miniatures inevitably has much in common with that of other copies -- the human faces given to celestial and terrestrial forms, for instance -- but often departs from the standard solutions, see J. Einhorn, 'Der Bilderschmuck der Handschriften und Drucke zu Ulrichs von Pottelstein Buch der natürlichen Weisheit', Verbum und Signum, ed. H. Fromm et al., 1975, I, pp.389-424. The illustration of I 25, on Nature, the Eye and the Ear, excludes the ear, correctly shown in other manuscripts, in favour of two eyes, one either side of the personification of Nature. The painter has followed the red heading over the miniature, which refers only to a maiden with two eyes; the illuminator also follows the heading at I 1, f.1v, where the fox and the raven are joined by two naked children, and at I 26, f.25, where four stones, instead of the usual three, are shown. In other cases it is made explicit that headings originated as instructions to the illuminator rather than as translations from the Latin titles. On f.33v, II 2, the heading for Will and Reason is followed by 'Item von Will und von vernunft was sind zway pild und schüllen gemalt werden ains mann und ains frauen pild': Will and Reason are indeed two figures painted as one man and one woman. Similar instructions appear on ff.35v, 42v, 43v, 58v, 59, 60v (where Fortune is to be a man with a wheel, uniquely among the illustrated copies), 66, 70, 71, 73, 74, 75, 77, 79, 80, 81, 81v, 82v, 83v, 84v, 87v. The book thus offers an exceptionally rich opportunity for the study of the interaction of word and image, of writer and painter.
One other manuscript is noted as having some instructions for the illuminator (Melk, Stiftsbibliothek, cod. 551) but the detailed headings of the Ashburnham manuscript are apparently unique (Bodemann, p.81). Headings are usually limited to the numbering and the proverbial summary of the content; the numbering is never given in Ashburnham, with its two-book rearrangement, and some headings had to be corrected, as on f.81. Of the two manuscripts closest in text, the Eger manuscript is illustrated with pen drawings, never completed, while the mutilated Egerton copy, on parchment, was richly illuminated, probably in Salzburg around 1430. There are some similarities in the content of the Egerton and Ashburnham miniatures that are not generally shared, like the appearance of Nature for I 25 and the fire on the whale-island for I 8; there are also differences, like the portrayal in Egerton and Eger of Will and Reason, II 2, as two men. Some solutions are widespread, like the two stages of the story shown at II 15: such continuities could derive from visual models or verbal instructions. The Ashburnham manuscript strongly suggests that a separate list of instructions on pictorial content was, or had been, in circulation with some copies of Ulrich's text.
Johannes Mör may not have been working from a fully illustrated copy, since he forgot to leave spaces for miniatures on f.3, where text was erased, and f.37, where the miniature is painted over a red initial. He did, however, correctly leave an extra large space for the complex illustration of II 7, f.31v. Whatever the illuminator's model, many of his animals owe more to pattern books than observed reality, necessarily so for exotics like the crocodile 'a poisonous serpent', f.59, or the ostrich with hooves, ff.29v, 48; insects and reptiles are often seen from above, as though first drawn from laid out specimens. Monkeys have become more human, while familiar animals, from farmyard or countryside, retain more of their actual appearance and character.
Overall, these lively and confident pictures imbue the animals with instantly recognisable personality traits to convey eternal truths of human nature. The abiding appeal of fables over the millennia is easily understood when looking at a work of such verve and insight.
The subjects of the miniatures are as follows:
f.1v, I 1, The curious Fox and the Raven
f.2v, I 2, The Eagle and the Sun
f.3, I 3, The Raven, the Fox and the Monkey at the council of birds and animals
f.4, I 4, The Grasshopper (as a bird in a tree) and the Ant
f.5, I 5, The Raven and the Fox
f.5v, I 6, The Spider and the Fly
f.6v, I 7, The Mouse and the Snail
f.7v, I 8, The Whale and the Sailor, who mistook it for an island
f.8v, I 9, The Fox and the Monkey
f.9v, I 10, The Ant and the Fox
f.10v, I 11, The Ox and the Sow
f.11v, I 13, The Raven, the Hens and the Fox lying in wait
f.13, I 14, The Ox and the Wolf
f.13v, I 15, The Raven and the Frog
f.14v, I 16, The Lion, the Ass and the Wolves
f.15v, I 17, The Sun and Mercury as a star
f.16v, I 18, The Lion, the Fox and the Mouse
f.17v, I 19, The Hedgehog and the Adder
f.18v, I 20, The Raven and the Dove
f.19v, I 21, The Corn, and the Stone, omitted in heading and picture
f.20v, I 22, The Bear (pern wolf), the Dove and the Lamb
f.21v, I 23, The Fox and the Asp
f.22v, I 24, The Pilgrim Fox with staff and the animals he meets
f.24, I 25, The Ear (omitted), Nature and the Eye (doubled)
f.25, I 26, Four Precious Stones
f.26, I 27, Five Trees, the Fig Tree distinguished in the middle
f.27, II 1, The Air, with sun, moon and stars, encircling the green Earth with a church
f.27v, II 2, The Soul and the Body, as two naked figures
f.28v, II 3, The Goat, seeing his reflection, and the Hedgehog
f.29v, II 4, The Ostrich and the Hen
f.30v, II 5, The Horse, the Knight, and the Mule
f.31v, II 6, The Monkey, the Raven, the Sailor, the King and the Fox
f.32v, II 7, The Hare and the Sparrow
f.33v, II 8, Will and Reason
f.34v, II 9, The Sheep and the Stag
f.35v, II 10, Sentiment and Intellect, as a man and a woman
f.37, II 11, The Bear in his lair, the Fox, the Hind and the Stag
f.38v, II 12, The Clouds and the Earth, with human heads
f.39v, II 13, The Ant, the Bee and the Nightingale
f.40v, II 14, The Reed and the Sugarcane
f.41v, II 15, The Fox and the Hen in two episodes of the story
f.42v, II 16, The Frog and the Eel
f.43v, II 17, The two Fish
f.44v, II 18, The Unicorn and the Raven
f.45v, II 19, The Horse and the Mule
f.46v, II 20, The Fox, the Hens, the Geese and the Ape
f.47, II 21, The Peacock and the Hedgehog
f.48, II 22, The Ostrich, the Raven and all sorts of other birds
f.49, II 23, The Briarbrush and the Figtree
f.50, II 24, The Firmament, as sun, moon and stars on blue around a pink circle, and Saturn, omitted from heading and miniature
f.51, II 25, The Peacock and the Raven
f.52, II 26, The Raven and the Nightingale in a handsome cage
f.53, II 27, The Raven and the Fox
f.53v, II 28, The Hen and the Raven
f.55, II 29, The Monkey and the Donkey, in a wood
f.57, II 30, The Dove, and the Mud, not depicted
f.57v, III 1, The Raven and the Fox
f.58, III 2, The Mole battles Nature, a sturdy female
f.59v, III 3, The Crocodile and the bird Scrophill
f.60v, III 4, The Rich Man and Fortune 'und das müss auch ain man mit ainem Rad gemalt'
f.62, III 5, The Fox and the Monkey
f.63, III 6, The Raven and the Peacock
f.64v, III 7, The Dragon, and the Hyena, omitted from picture and heading
f.66, III 8, The Fox and the Weasel
f.67v, III 9, The Fox and the Monkey in man's clothes
f.68v, III 10, The Youth advised by the Old Man not to journey to the Golden Mountains, omitted from picture and heading
f.70, III 11, The Fox and the Weasel
f.71, III 12, The Monkey and the Actor, with a lute
f.73, III 13, The Gourd and the Palm
f.74, III 14, The Leech and the Ant
f.75, III 15, The Spider and the Bee
f.76, III 16, The Ox and the Wolf
f.77, III 17, The Owl and the Light of Day 'das schol gemalt werden als ain menschen antlitz', like a man's face
f.78, III 18, The Spider and the Silkworm
f.79, III 19, The Earth and Air, with faces
f.80, III 20, The Mouse and the Silkworm
f.81, III 21, Earth and Heaven, two faces within a circle
f.82, III 22, Day and Night, with faces
f.82v, III 23, The Danube and the Sea, with faces
f.83v, III 24, The Sun and the Fog, with faces
f.84v, III 25, The Eagle and the Phoenix
f.85, III 26, The Viper, and its Young, not shown
f.86v, IV 1, The Cat and the Sow
f.87v, III 27, The Dog, his Master and the Wolf