A Very Rare Book, with a Moving Set of Cranach Woodcuts Showing the Martyrdom of the 12 Apostles


(Wittenberg: Georg Rhau, 1549). 285 x 192 mm. (11 1/4 x 7 1/2"). [11] leaves. FIRST EDITION.

Recent unadorned retrospective calf by Courtland Benson. Title page framed by woodcut figures of the 12 Apostles, 13 WOODCUTS BY LUCAS CRANACH (signed with his shield) depicting the Apostles and Saint Paul, and two additional woodcuts of the Creation and the Resurrection. VD 16 P-4031. Small portion of inner margin at bottom of title page renewed (well away from images and text), margins faintly smudged and thumbed, printed on paper not of the highest quality (or perhaps washed) and now no longer crisp, strength of illustration impressions varies, but a copy without any fatal flaws of an excessively rare book to be welcomed in any condition.

This elusive work features a major suite of wood engravings by a leading artist of the German Renaissance, vividly depicting the martyrdoms suffered by Christ's Apostles, the "Holy 12" of the title. Court painter to Frederick, elector of Saxony, and friend of Martin Luther, Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) is described by Britannica as the "chief pictorial propagandist of the Protestant cause in Germany." His reputation drew other artists to Wittenberg, and Muther observes that the city "achieved its position in the history of book illustration by virtue of Martin Luther and Lucas Cranach." He is best known today as an engraver, and the present woodcuts demonstrate his merit. Originally designed in 1514 and used once before (in a 1539 work on the Apostle's Creed), they are full of movement and detail, showing the various brutal deaths of the Apostles--by crucifixion, beheading, and in the case of the unfortunate Simon, by being sawn in half--before jeering crowds. In the sermon printed here at the front of the volume, Lutheran preacher Pollicarius (1524-67) explains how the lives and deaths of the Apostles can be a source of inspiration and instruction to Christians (while Lutherans had abolished the cult of the saints, they were still devoted to the Apostles). Accompanying each plate is a line linking back to the prefatory sermon and then a brief passage describing the image, often including scriptural citations of the event portrayed. Pollicarius studied under Luther at Wittenberg and wrote the first biography of his teacher, which he published together with Luther's assembled writings after the latter's death. Wittenberg printer Georg Rhau (1488-1548) was important to the success of the Protestant Reformation. In addition to producing religious texts, he was a composer and one of the leading music publishers in Germany. This is an extremely rare book: apart from the present item, we were able to trace no copy on the market since 1947.

Add to Cart Price: $12,500.00

PJP Catalog: NY19BF.044