469J   Rabanus Maurus. 784-856?

 Magnencij Rabani Mauri De Laudib[us] sancte Crucis opus. erudcione versu prosaq[ue] mirificum. edited by Jacobus Wimpheling.

Phorçheim. [Pforzheim : In ædibus Thom[ae] Anshelmi., 1503.     $24,000

Folio 31 x 21cm. signatures: Aa6 Bb4 a-k6; A, B6 C4. [Complete] Types 3:109R, 4:180G; 40 lines of transcribed verse + headline, 40 lines of commentary + headline, red and black printing throughout, calligraphic woodcut initial (Proctor, fig. 24) M on title page, woodcut initials printed in red, and a figured prefatory poem, 28 carmina figurata, the first entirely xylographic, the remaining poems combining printed and xylographic letters with the versus intexti printed in red (except fig. xvi), enclosed by either woodcut figures (of the emperor, Christ, the Evangelists, Cherubim, etc.) printed in black or by Christian symbols and characters, most defined by metal rules in red.

∞ This copy is bound in a quarter bound vellum  spine over a 15th century printed leaf of a part of Luke from a Latin Vulgate Bible over boards with central gilt arms of Signet Library to covers,  Provenance: Signet Library (gilt arms to covers); and then Alan G. Thomas .(one of my favorite booksellers)∞In this copy the final 3 signatures (part II) were supplied from another copy.

IMG_6556 copy

This book  is one of the most  remarkable typographical achievement (ever),  probably the earliest attempt to reproduce a medieval manuscript.

It is also as far as I have found the most complicated and successful  Carmina figuratum, {acrostic/ figurative/ shape {concrete} sustained   collection of poems  ever written.* 

“Hrabanus Maurus, the abbot of Fulda, wrote in the midst of the ‘new monasticism,’ a period associated with a revival of literacy and learning. In religious and secular spheres. This ‘script culture,’ as Rosamond McKitterick has it, used the written word not only as a mode of communication but as ‘a resource, a guide, a key, and an inspiration,’ especially in the devotional practice of Christianity. printed in red and black, Roman type, 2 woodcuts, one of the author presenting his book to Pope Gregory IV, the other of two monks kneeling before the Pope, 30 full-page xylographic and typographic figurative verses, the figures including Emperor Louis I, Christ, cherubs, crosses and symbols of the Evangelists, woodcut Maiblumen Initials or Lombard initials in red, title with small marginal losses, strengthened at inner margin verso and soiled, occasional marginal worming, some water-staining and finger-marking.

It is one of the earliest books printed at Pforzheim and earliest printed examples of figurative poetry (carmina figurata).  This edition includes preliminary verses by Sebastian Brant, Jacob Wimpheling, Johann Reuchlin and Georg Simler.

 Some of the text within and near the outline figures are xylographic, the rest printed. The letters within the outlines are printed in red and may be read separately in a different sense. Printed in red and black with initials (except on title page.) in red.

Many woodcut initials printed in red, two woodcuts of Alcuin interceding on behalf of Rabanus before Pope Gregory iv, and of Rabanus presenting his poems to the Pope; a figured dedicatory poem to Louis the Pious and a figured prefatory poem, 28 carmina figurata, the first entirely xylographic, the remaining poems combining printed and xylographic letters with the versus intexti printed in red (except fig. xvi), enclosed by either woodcut figures (of the emperor, Christ, the Evangelists, Cherubim, etc.) printed in black or  by Christian symbols and characters, most defined by metal rules in red.

This is a spectacular collection of poems all centered on veneration and meditation upon the cross.

“Hrabanus created  the various shapes and figures by highlighting individual letters in underlying poens in colour (in the printed editions red), and theses individual letters together make up meaningful text , ranging from simple declarations to very elaborate ones.  For example, Carmina 2 contains a simple cross inside a square (Hrabanus calls it a “tetragonum”)whose sides form a border for the poem as a whole. The text from the underlying poem that makes up the figure consists of six hexameters, each one an address to the cross beginning with the words ‘O crux…’ When we follow Hrabanus’s instruction in the accompanying prose text for reading these hexameters, we find the following: even though the verse that forms the top of the square is also the opening of the underlying poem, he insists that we begin reading with the stem of the cross, from top to bottom.” (Schipper)

Sunt quoque uersus duo in ipsa ccruceconscripti, quorum prior est:


a summo in ima descendens. Alter uero:


a dextra in sinistram crucis tendens ‡

‡“there are also two verses inscribed in the cross, The first of which is :

“ O cross , thou who art at the height of fame, a dedicated moment”

running from the top down.  And a second;

“O Cross thou who through the body of Christ art the blessed triumph”

running from the right to the left.”

Further more Hrabanus flips left and right the texts point of view alternates , Hrabanus tells us the cross is looking out at the reader, not the other way around. “ Only after we have read the hexameters in the cross are we free to read the verses in the four sides of the tetragon, and even then Hrabanus constrains the order in which they are to be read: first the top, then the bottom, then the right side then finally the left side.”

More complex figures present further challenges in reading. The figure in Carmen 25, for example, consists of eight letters of the word ‘ALLEVIA’ arranged around a small cross. It does not take much effort to notice that we need to start with the A, read down to the E, continue on the left, and end on the right of the figure; and that each time we trace out those letters we make the sign of the cross. It becomes more difficult when we also try and read the text that is enclosed in the figures. The letters of ALLEVIA are made of the following letters from the underlying poem.

                                                               A  crux[a

                                                               L  eter

    L  na[de

            E  i]es[lave[v 

L  ivis

      V  in]arc

   I   e]po

     A  lorvm


‡ Eternal cross, thou art the praise of God, thou livest in the arc of the skies.

Peter Godman, Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), 249.

G. Rigg and G. R. Wieland, ‘A Canterbury Classbook of the Mid-eleventh CenturyAnglo-Saxon England 4 (1974), 113-30.

William Schipper, ‘Hrabanus Maurus in Anglo-Saxon England: In Honorem Sanctae Crucis’, in Early Medieval Studies in Memory of Patrick Wormald, ed. Stephen Baxter, Catherine Karkov, Janet L. Nelson, David Pelteret (Farnham, Surrey; Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2009), 283-98.

 I   Rabanus venerating 

Literature: Verzeichnis der im deutschen Sprachbereich erschienenen Drucke des XVI. Jahrhunderts (VD 16),; H 5271;( http://gateway-bayern.de/VD16+H+5271 )

 Proctor, R. Index to the early printed books in the British Museum,; 11747:350;  Adams, H.M. Catalogue of books printed on the continent of Europe, 1501-1600, in Cambridge libraries,; R3; Catalogue of a collection of early German books in the library of C. Fairfax Murray,; 350; Panzer, G.W.F. Annales typographici,; VIII 227, nº2; Pollard, A.W. Catalogue of books mostly from the presses of the first printers … collected by Rush C. Hawkins,; 189 ;  Brunet IV, 1035 (‘Édition rémarquable à cause de la singulière disposition typographie d’une partie du texte’).  Knap Sebastian Brant Bibliographie 


 Cf.   William Schipper, ‘Hrabanus Maurus in Anglo-Saxon England: In Honorem Sanctae Crucis’, in Early Medieval Studies in Memory of   Patrick Wormald, ed. Stephen Baxter, Catherine Karkov, Janet L. Nelson, David Pelteret Farnham, Surrey; Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate,2009.

Jeffrey F. Hamburger, Diagramming Devotion: Berthold of Nuremberg’s Transformation of Hrabanus Maurus’s Poems in Praise of the Cross ,University of Chicago Press; September 21, 2020

Peter Godman, Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance , University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.

Rigg and G. R. Wieland, ‘A Canterbury Classbook of the Mid 11th CenturyAnglo-Saxon England 4 (1974), 113-30.

A list of the Carmina’s 1-28


Jakob Wimpfeling (25 July 1450 – 17 November 1528)und seine Schüler im Gespräch mit Thomas Murner

Humanist and theologian, b. at Schlettstadt, Alsace, 25 July 1450; d. there, 17 Nov., 1528. He went to the school at Schlettstadt conducted by Ludwig Dringenberg, and from 1464 was a student at the University of Freiburg (baccalaureus, 1466); later he went to Erfurt and Heidelberg (magister, 1471). He then studied canon law for three years, and finally theology. In 1483 he was cathedral preacher at Speyer. In 1498 Philip, the Elector Palatine, called him to Heidelberg as professor of rhetoric and poetry.  From 1513 he lived at Schlettstadt, where a circle of pupils and admirers gathered around him. Differences of opinion caused by the Lutheran doctrine broke up this literary society, and Wimpfeling died .lonesome and embittered.

His literary career began with a few publications in which he urged the more frequent holding of synods, the veneration of the Blessed Virgin, and an improvement of the discipline of the clergy. The “Elegantiarum medulla” (1493) is an extract from Valla’s books on the elegance of the Latin language. In the “Isidoneus germanicus” (1496) he presented his pedagogical ideals, and opposed Scholasticism.  The teaching of grammar should lead to the reading of heathen writers who were not immoral and especially of the Christian writers. He also laid emphasis on learning the practical sciences.

 His most important work, “Adolescentia” (1500), was intended to supplement “Isidoneus”. Here he set forth the ethical side of his pedagogical scheme. The troubles of the Church spring from the bad training of the young; consequently, young people must be trained so as to be well-established in morals. He then discusses the details of twenty laws for young men. He showed himself a fiery patriot in the “Germanic” (1501), which involved him in a feud with Murner. His “Epitome rerum germanicarum” is a short history of the Germans, drawn in some particulars from other historians. In several writings he opposed abuses in the Church. After Luther’s excommunication he took part in the attempt to prevail upon the Curia to withdraw the ban. This caused him to be suspected of having written a lampoon on the Curia, “Litancia pro Germania”, that was probably composed by Hermann von dem Busche. In 1521 he submitted to the Church, of which he was ever afterwards a loyal son. In 1524 he added to Emser’s dialogue against Zwingli’s “Canonis missae defensio” a letter to Luther and Zwingli, in which he exhorted them to examine the Scriptures carefully in order to discover for themselves that the Canons of the Mass contains nothing contrary to the doctrines and customs of the early Church. He then retired from the struggle, and was ridiculed by fanatical partisans of Luther as a renegade and a persecutor of heretics. He was one of the best representatives of moderate humanism, one who honestly sought and wanted much that was good but who generally only half attained his desires.

SCHMIDT, Histoire litteraire de l’Alsace (Paris, 1879), I, 1-187; II, 317- 39; KNEPPER, Jakob Wimpfeling (Freiburg, 1902).