JOHANNES BIRK, Stifftung des Gotzhaus Kempten und Sant Hyltgarten Leben, The monastic foundation at Kempten and the Life of St Hildegard, in German, DECORATED MANUSCRIPT ON PAPER
[Kempten Abbey, Swabia], dated 1499
303 x 202mm. 147 leaves, including ii flyleaves and blanks ff.22-3, 93-146r and two pages later 16th-century additions (f.146v-147), contemporary foliation in ink (A-C, F-H, J-M, N-T, V-W, 1-15, 17-70), modern pencil foliation beginning on first flyleaf and followed here, paper overlay with contemporary correction on one calendar leaf, bull's head watermarks indicating two paperstocks, 27-28 lines written in brown ink in a cursiva libraria, the first section (ff.13-21) in a different hand, between two horizontals and verticals ruled in brown, justification: 205 x 133mm, capitals touched red, rubrics in red, large opening initials in red, some flourished, three computational tables in red and brown ink, two large circular diagrams with yellow and black wash and once with volvelles, FIFTY-NINE LARGE DRAWINGS in ink and coloured washes (apparently lacking two leaves after f.5 and a leaf after f.38, light wear and surface soiling throughout, mainly to margins, edges brittle with losses at lower inner margin of many leaves, some repaired tears, mostly marginal, several affecting text or drawings). ?Original wooden boards rebound in 20th-century calf retaining possibly original upper cover in light brown calf stamped and ruled in blind, divided by single and double diagonal fillets into lozenge-shaped compartments containing tools including a standing saint, fleur de lys, foliage, scroll inscribed ?Maria and rosette in a roundel, metal catch (upper cover worn with loss at edges).
A RARE COPY OF JOHANNES BIRK'S HISTORY OF THE ABBEY OF KEMPTEN AND LIFE OF ST HILDEGARD IN GERMAN, SIGNED AND DATED BY THE SCRIBE
1. Presumably made for the Benedictine Abbey of Kempten in the diocese of Constance, in present day Allgaü, south-west Bavaria. St Hildegard, Charlemagne and their son, Louis the Pious, were revered as benefactors and founders of the Abbey in the 8th century. Eleven volumes are known to have survived from its library (see S. Krämer, Handschriftenerbe des Deutschen Mittelalters, I, 1989, this manuscript cited p.392). The manuscript is signed and dated on f.92 by the scribe, Peter Brack of Minderdorff on Thursday before the Purification of the Virgin (2 February), 1499: 'Diss biechlin ist volendet und geschriben am dornstag vor unser lieben frowen tag irer rainigung zuo liechtmess Anno dni.Mo cccco lxxxxviiijno per me petrum brack von minderdorff'. The death of the father of Petrus Brack of Oberminderdorff is added beside 22 November in the calendar, which includes saints revered in Augsburg and Constance.
2. The list of contents in Latin added to the verso of f.ii in a 17th-century hand suggests the volume was still at Kempten where it probably remained until the abbey was suppressed in 1802.
3. In 1927 the manuscript was in the private collection of Ernst Urbas of Klagenfurt, Austria, where it had been described by Hermann Menhardt in 1924 (H. Menhardt, Handschriftenverzeichnis der Kärntner Bibliotheken, Bd.1, Vienna, 1927, S.262, see notes reproduced on www.bbaw.de, Handschriftenarchiv).
Calendar, each month with accompanying notes on astrology, on determining auspicious times for taking cold water baths, advice on which food, drink and medicines to be consumed according to the season, and medical dictums from the classical world including those of Aristotle, Galen, Seneca, Albumasar and Hippocrates ff.3-12v; 'Nach Volget Unnd ist ze mercken dyew aigenschafft aines yedlichen Mensch[e]n', on the nature of man (including, for example, 'Item. Dye forcht ligt dem mensch[e]n Inn Dem Hertzen') f.13; circular diagram and explanatory notes on the planets and days of the week, a list of zodiac signs with computational tables, ff.13v-15; '... wann es gut od[e]r bös zu der Aderlassen sey', on bloodletting, with a list of zodiac signs and their influence, computational tables for the years 1500-1577, circular diagram and explanations on the planets relating to the seasons, elements and the bodily humours ff.15v-21; Stifftung des gotzhaus kempt[e]n un[d] sant hyltgart[e]n leben ff.24-92, an account of the building and endowing of the abbey, a list of its relics which include a part of Aaron's rod, Noah's Ark and St Peter's Cross, manna and St Michael Archangel's footprint ff.36v-39, accounts of patron saints Gordian and Epimachus ff.39v-47v, indulgences given for the altar of St Hildegard at Kempten and for the chapel at Burghalde castle ff.47v-49v, of the twelve kings and noblemen who came to Kempten with St Hildegard ff.50-57v, God's miraculous deeds at Kempten carried out through St Hildegard and Louis the Pious ff.58-80v, the miracles performed by Charlemagne ff.81-81v, a record of important historical events until 1494 ff.82-87, 'Zu dem letsten des biechlins merck ein klain history von dem loblich[e]n un[d] vest[e]n ritter hainrich[e]n von kempt[en]', a history of the knight, Heinrich of Kempten detailing his four knightly deeds (ff.87-92); colophon f.92; added instructions on how to grow trees in a garden ff.146v-147.
This is a rare copy of the text in German, with only three other manuscripts apparently recorded: a copy bound with a chronicle of Augsburg by Sigismund Meisterlin, Universitätsbibliothek, Würzburg (U.B. cod. M.ch.f.97, ff.124-230v), with Birk's text dated after 1483, and Augsburg, Staats- und Stadtbibliothek, 2° Cod 249, written in 1582 by the scribe Jeremias Lentzer of Wettenhausen, copied from an earlier text signed and dated 1506 by the scribe Johannes Kreler.
Johannes Birk of Biberach, who studied in Vienna and Heidelberg and from the late 1460s until 1494 ran the Abbey school at Kempten, originally wrote three distinct works, in Latin; the lives of St Hildegard, of Charlemagne, and a history of Kempten, elaborating earlier sources such as Gottfried of Marsilia and Pseudo Turpin. He followed with this simplified combination of all three in the vernacular.
Colour-washed drawings were especially favoured in southern Germany for providing effective illustrations quickly and economically. The resulting economy of style encouraged a telling use of assured line, with colour as an attractive adjunct that could, however, be crucial for clarifying figures and details. The convention of unframed pictures with minimal settings meant the artist had to focus on essentials to convey the subject through a frieze of figures strikingly isolated against the page.
The subjects of the drawings are as follows:
f.24 The Virgin and Child in a mandorla beside the Abbey of Kempten
f.24v St Hildegard and Charlemagne holding a model of the Abbey
f.26 St Hildegard and Louis the Pious with a young girl, illustrating the chapter on St Hildegard's descendants
f.27v St Hildegard overseeing the building of the Abbey
f.29 Two labourers carrying a large stone
f.30 The castle of Hylemont or Burghalde
f.32 Pope Adrian I asperging the Abbey, accompanied by a Cardinal, before St Hildegard and Charlemagne.
f.33v A monk and the Abbey's first Abbot, Audegarius, before the Abbey receiving its charter from Charlemagne
f.34v Two monks with Audegarius
f.36 Four reliquaries from the Abbey, supported on a wooden frame
f.39v Saints Gordian and Epimachus, Kempten's patron saints, beside the Virgin and Child in a mandorla
f.44 St Epimachus of Alexandria, holding his instrument of martyrdom,
a lime kiln
f.45v St Marina, the wife of St Gordian
f.47v Pope Adrian I giving the abbot of Kempten an indulgence for the altar of St Hildegard
f.49 Burghalde castle, illustrating the text relating to an indulgence for its chapel
f.51 Regimundus of Greece, with armorial
f.51v Duke Excelsus, with armorial
f.52 Marsilius, King of Spain, with armorial
f.52v Ferninus of Orleans, with armorial
f.53 Prince Rugaberchtus of the Nabodeans, with armorial
f.53v King Rosso of Africa, with armorial
f.54 Erphonus, king or governor of Persia, with armorial
f.54v Delsmotus of Egypt, with armorial
f.55 Duke Leonarius of the Chaldeans, with armorial
f.55v Dolganus, king of the Franks, with armorial
f.56 Duke Bero of Madion, with armorial
f.56v Count Decretarius of Ethiopia, with armorial
f.57v Five coats of arms, of Kempten and its patrons, the duchies
of Bavaria, of Saxony, Wüttemberg and Vorarlberg
f.58 Standing figure of St Hildegard, wearing the imperial crown
f.62 The hand of God above St Hildegard and her son Louis the Pious
f.63 The altar and grave of St Hildegard in Kempten Abbey
f.63v A child brought back to life on the altar of St Hildegard, the saint and Louis the Pious looking on, the hand of God above
f.64v A boy who drowned in the Iller river; St Hildegard kneeling at the bank with Louis, the hand of God above
f.65 A leper, shown with his clappers, is cured; with St Hildegard and Louis, the hand of God above
f.66 A cripple is healed; St Hildegard and Louis, the hand of God above f.66v A man with hydropsy is healed; St Hildegard and Louis at
the foot of his bed, the hand of God above
f.67v Evil spirits, shown as two black birds, are expelled from
an old woman; St Hildegard and Louis, the hand of God above
f.68v The blacksmith Conrad of Kempten Abbey working at his forge
f.69 Two women chained in stocks
f.70 A woman with hydropsy is cured; hand of God above
f.70v Conrad von Füssen, a young lame boy, is cured, hand of God above
f.71 A blind monk from Reitenbach Abbey is given back his sight, the
hand of God above
f.72 A deaf woman from Gerisried hears again, the hand of God above
f.72v A lame woman on crutches, Hyltgart Felberin of Ostrach, is cured, the hand of God above
f.73 Sabina Lesslarius of Echingen in prayer, cured of the 'fluss der
frowen oder blumen', the hand of God above
f.73v An evil spirit is expelled from the preacher Wernher Lindberger of Walse, kneeling before St Hildegard and Louis, the hand of God above f.74v Peter Birck of St Gall covered in boils, is cured, the hand of God above
f.75 An old woman from Stouffen is healed, the hand of God above
f.75v A young man, Heinrich Aichelberg of Altheim, lying in bed cured
from a serious illness
f.76 Berchtold Kramer of Echingen, a mute boy, being cured, the hand of God above
f.77 Margaretha Stentnerin of Krügzell is cured of St Vitus' Dance,
the hand of God above
f.77v A girl Gütta Schnyderin of Kempten with 'bad' eyes is cured, the hand of God above
f.78 Two sextons digging the graves of St Hildegard and Louis the Pious f.79v The monks of Kempten Abbey digging up the tomb of Louis
f.81 An angel bringing Charlemagne his sword, spurs and orb
f.87 The knight Heinrich von Kempten, in full armour, with banner
f.88v The knight Heinrich holding a club
f.89 The knight Heinrich holding a lance
f.89v The knight Heinrich holding a halberd, representing 'his manliest knightly fight'