A Profusely Illustrated mid-16th Century Erasmus New Testament, In an Extraordinarily Well-Preserved Binding Done for Two (Twin?) Brothers


(Frankfurt am Main: Weigand Han, 1560). 175 x 100 mm. (6 3/4 x 4"). 24 p.l., 376, [9] leaves.

VERY FINE CONTEMPORARY BLIND-STAMPED CALF, covers framed by ornate medallion-and-foliage roll (EBDB r002141), enclosing a central panel tooled with palmettes, upper cover with lettering at head: "HINRICUS ET HIERONYMUS WITZENDORFF" and the date "1562"; raised bands, spine in blind-ruled compartments with two star tools, top compartment with remnants of paper label, bottom compartment with ink lettering (shelf location?), two brass clasps. ILLUSTRATED THROUGHOUT, with 12 labor-of-the-month woodcut headpiece vignettes in the Calendar, and 129 half-page woodcuts, four of them repeated twice. VD16 B 4294; USTC 678598; Not in Adams or STC German. For the binding: EBDB k011196 (this copy); Haebler I, 443-44, roll 6; Senf, "Die Buchbinder-Innung zu Wittenberg im 16 Jahrhundert" (1909), p. 16, no. 41. Head and tail of spine with small chips, a little rubbing to extremities, occasional very faint dampstain to upper gutter quadrant of leaves, but AN EXTREMELY FINE COPY, quite clean, fresh, and even bright internally, in a completely solid and entirely appealing binding with the tooling in high relief.

This uncommon illustrated edition of the New Testament comes in a dated binding done for two German brothers, Heinrich and Hieronymus Witzendorff, by the Wittenberg workshop of Paul Thiele (fl. 1555-75). Formerly in the Council Library in the city of Lüneberg, this binding is illustrated in EBDB ("Einbanddatenbank," the Bavarian State Library's database of 16th century German blind-stamped bindings) as an example of Thiele's work. One of the brothers may have been the Heinrich Witzendorph (1550-1617) who served as Bürgermeister of Lüneberg--which would explain the volume's presence in the town library. Heinrich would have been 12 years old when he received this Bible, perhaps for his confirmation. That the book was to be shared by two brothers with rather similar names makes it tempting to speculate that they were twins. The contents here are also of interest. The numerous woodcuts are unsigned but have a distinct similarity to those designed by Hans Brosamer (ca. 1506-54), a resemblance especially evident in the images of the life of Christ and of the Apocalypse. Brosamer, who may have trained in Cranach's workshop, did the woodcuts for the Luther Bible printed in Wittenberg, and for the catechism printed by our Frankfurt publisher, both issued in 1550. This edition of the New Testament is scarce, with OCLC and USTC finding just four copies in U.S. libraries. The very fine condition suggests that the Witzendorph brothers treasured it rather than studied it. Given the illustrations, the beauty of the binding, the condition inside and out, and the intriguing provenance, this is simply an item of compelling interest.