PSALTER in the German translation of Martin Luther, with Kurzen Summarien und Gebetlein für die Hausüeter unnd ihre Kinder, by NICOLAUS SELNECCER (1530-1592), ILLUMINATED CALLIGRAPHIC MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM AND PAPER
Oldenburg, 1592 and 1600.250 x 188mm. 214 leaves, including 8 paper at beginning (first 3 pasted down) and 10 paper at end (last 2 pasted down), written in various Fraktur scripts in black, gold and silver or metallic ink with numerous large flourished initials, every paper page framed by beaded fillets, EVERY VELLUM PAGE WITH A FULL BORDER of knotwork, interlace or geometric designs, some with flowers, lion masks and cherub heads, ONE FULL-PAGE MINIATURE in colour, EIGHTEEN PAGES WITH EXTENSIVELY DECORATED DISPLAY SCRIPTS, and NINE PAGES WITH INTRICATE MICROGRAHIC DESIGNS some with mirror writing (slight cockling to f.2). CONTEMPORARY BLACK VELVET OVER WOODEN BOARDS, BOTH COVERS WITH ELABORATE SILVER OPENWORK BORDERS OF TREFOILS WITH CORNERPIECES INCORPORATING CLASSICAL FIGURES, ENCLOSING ARMORIAL CENTREPIECES within cartouches of flowers, fruit and putti, surmounted by Justice over the letters DGHIE, inscribed VGG [von Gottes Gnade] JOHAN GRAFE ZU OLDENBURGH UND DELMENHORST HER ZU IEVER UND KNIPHAUSEN, clasps and catches with antique motifs, with some gilt retention, (velvet rubbed and mostly lacking from spine but retaining original manuscript vellum binders' waste onlays, silver tarnished, one clasp defective). Green half-morocco solander case.
A MAGNIFICENT MASTERPIECE OF CALLIGRAPHY AND MICROGRAPHY IN ITS ORIGINAL BINDING FOR JOHN VII OF OLDENBURG
1. Johann VII or XVI, Graf von Oldenburg (1540-1603), initiator of the Golden Age of Oldenburg brought to fruition by his son, Graf Anton Günther (1583-1667): his name and titles f.1; hymn 'Durch Gott hab ichs erhalten', source of his device DGHIE f.1v; his coat of arms in micrography, with his name below the helm f.2, and f.3; the colophon on the final written paper leaf addressed to him and dated 17 October 1600 by Johannes Kirchring from Riga, Güldenschreiber in Oldenburg, who signed and dated the title page 1592, 'Geschrieben durch Johannem Kirch- ringk Rigensem Güldenschreiber und Rechenmeister zü Olden bürg f. Ano. 92' f.17.
2. Anton II, Graf von Aldenburg (1680-1738): his armorial bookplate inside upper cover. Anton Günther left much of his property, including the Oldenburg library, to his only, illegitimate, son Anton, first Graf von Aldenburg (1663-1680), father of Anton II.
3. Charles Aldenburg Bentinck (1810-1891): autograph note at beginning, continuing the provenance to Anton II's only child, Charlotte Sophia (1715-1800), wife of William Bentinck (1704-1774), son of the 1st Earl of Portland; her bequest to her grandson, also William Bentinck (1764-1813), whose widow gave it in 1832 to their son, the writer of the note. His son, Henry Aldenburg Bentinck (1852-1938), signed his name in 1905; Henry Bentinck signed in 1945.
CONTENT AND ILLUMINATION:
Prefatory calligraphic and micrographic leaves incorporating prayers, hymns and Biblical texts ff.1-16: including micrographic armorial achievement of Johann VII f.2, his micrographic coat of arms with the Prayer of Manasseh f.3, the Ten Commandments, dated 1600, within micrographic designs f.5, Ecclesiasticus III 31 - VI 22 as a micrographic maze-like composition f.7, micrographic interlace f.7v, liturgical calendar framed with texts, all in mirror writing f.8, the Golden ABC, interspersed with texts in mirror writing ff.9-11v, micrographic design in mirror writing around the Ten Commandments f.12, micrographic orb with the opening of John's Gospel f.13, micrographic panel with the opening of Genesis f.14, micrographic page with diagram of sin and salvation f.16.
The Psalter in the German translation of Martin Luther with summaries and verse prayers by Nicolaus Selneccer, a leading figure in the Lutheran Church, first published in 1571 ff.17-195; f.196 unwritten. The 1581 Leipzig edition has two cuts of King David; here David appears in a full-page miniature on f.18, with blank verso.
Lutheran hymns, first seven paper folios at end, finishing on recto, with colophon; final paper leaves unwritten.
Johannes Kirchring the Elder, one of the greatest 17th-century calligraphers, had moved from Riga to Oldenburg by 1592, as attested by the title page. He is last recorded in 1630 living with his son, the painter and calligrapher Johannes Kirchring the Younger, whose style is anticipated in the miniature of King David. It seems likely that this Psalter is the very work that attracted Johann VII's patronage and important court commissions. Dated 1592, the Psalter, with no mention of the Count, was perhaps written as a speculative venture to demonstrate his extraordinary skills and then greatly enriched and personalised in 1600 with the addition of the prefatory parchment leaves and the final paper leaves of hymns. In 1604 Kirchring completed for Count Anton Günther a second German Psalter; also inherited by the Aldenburg Bentincks, it has returned to Oldenburg (Landesmuseum, LMO 11,654). This later Psalter is finely decorated but does not equal the micrographic displays that make the Arcana volume so exceptional.
Kirchring was a superb exponent of the calligraphic skills developed in Germany during the 16th century, stimulated not extinguished by the demands of type design for printed books. His micrography probably drew on the rich Jewish tradition of Bible decoration that was especially strong in Germany. Although Lutherans were not, like Jews, forbidden religious images, there was great concern about the dangers of idolatry. Elaborate calligraphy and intricate micrography in elegant combinations of gold, silver and black were a splendid yet appropriate way of honouring the Word of God and of creating a book worthy of God's worship.