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Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

The Palatine Electors – Book collectors and Patrons of manuscripts

While much today is known about the history of the Bibliotheca Palatina library after 1623, the year they were first taken and stored in the Vatican, the history of many books leading up to this date remains undiscovered. For example, it is rarely possible to identify a manuscript in one of the old book registers, made in 1555-56 and 1581, from the holdings at that time. Records of purchase or ownership that often appear in similar manuscripts and are still common today, for example in the form of a simple name entry or a library stamp, are almost all missing for the period leading up to the early 17th century. Many of the book bindings, which are of great importance for research into the provenance, or origin, of a book were removed in 1622-23 to reduce the weight of transporting the manuscripts to Rome. Very few original bindings have survived, such as the leather “Ottheinrich” bindings, commissioned by and named after Elector Otto-Henry (reigned 1556-1559), which boast the customary Roll stamps and gilded portrait plates of their patron. From these bindings, it is clear that this Renaissance prince, who was a renowned bibliophile, owned these books. Who though, were the buyers, or patrons, of the other manuscripts?

One of the oldest manuscripts, which was certainly commissioned by a Heidelberg Elector, is the “Weltchronik” (World Chronicle) by Rudolf von Ems (BLB Karlsruhe, Donaueschingen 79). The codex was written and illuminated in south-west Germany in 1365, for Elector Rupert I (1309-1390). In addition to the World Chronicle (pp. 3ra-200rb), this codex also contains “The Life of Saint Elisabeth” (pp. 202ra-258ra), which Rupert perhaps commissioned in honor of wife, Elisabeth of Namur (1329-1382). The manuscript most likely came into the possession of the Counts of Württemberg through Margaret of Savoy (ca. 1410-1479) and was later loaned to the noble von Helfenstein family. As a result of this inheritance, the World Chronicle was likely passed on to the House of Fürstenberg, whose manuscript collection was later acquired by the State of Baden-Württemberg in 1993. This manuscript, with the shelf mark Donaueschingen 79, is today located in the Badische Landesbibliothek Karlsruhe (Baden State Library Karlsruhe).

We can identify the patrons of 27 manuscripts, written in three Upper German scribe workshops in the 15th century with certainty in some cases, and educated guesses in others.

Ludwig Henfflin's workshop produced nine of these manuscripts. Given that the Savoy coat of arms appears repeatedly in the manuscripts, which have been dated to the 1470s, we can assume that Margaret of Savoy most likely commissioned them. Margaret’s second husband was Elector Louis IV of the Palatinate (reigned 1436-1449), with whom she shared a son, Elector Philip the Upright (reigned 1476-1508). After Louis’s death, Margaret married Count Ulrich V of Württemberg in 1453. During her time at court in Stuttgart, Margaret acquired these books from the workshop now named after its only known employee, the scribe Ludwig Henflin, which was likely also based in Stuttgart. After her death in 1479, her son and heir, Philip, inherited these illuminated manuscripts, which thus became part of the Bibliotheca Palatina.

We can assume that Elector Louis III (reigned 1410-1436) was the buyer for the books from the „Alsatian Workshop of 1418“, which were written in the early 15th century. As early as 1408, Louis was bailiff in Alsace and could have encountered the studio in this capacity. His interest in books is verified not least by the foundation of the Abbey Library at the Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit), the core of what later became the Bibliotheca Palatina, which can be traced back to him. In his first will, drawn up in 1421, Louis had ordered that his theological, legal and medical books from his private library be placed in the purpose-built galleries of the Heiliggeistkirche.

Almost only the proximity of time between Elector Louis IV’s reign (1436-1449) and the creation of the manuscripts in Diebold Lauber's workshop in Hagenau, indicates that he could have been the patron or buyer. Alternatively, his brother Frederick I (“The Victorious”, reigned 1449-1476) could also have been a potential ‘first owner’, given that as the second-born son, he was also a bailiff.

© Karin Zimmermann, Maria Effinger, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, 10/2012
Translated by Emily Giles