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22.11.06 Herbers et al. (eds.), Hieronymus Münzer, Itinerarium

22.11.06 Herbers et al. (eds.), Hieronymus Münzer, Itinerarium


Hieronymus Münzer (1437/47-1508) was a physician and humanist from Nürnberg who was also an experienced traveler. In 1484 he made a journey to Rome. A decade later, in 1494-1495, he accomplished a remarkable circular journey from his hometown through Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and back through Spain, France, and Flanders, which is the subject of the present account. It survives in a single manuscript, Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 431, ff. 96-304, part of a miscellany written on paper and accompanied by several drawings that are reproduced in this edition (see below), and by a number of annotations. Copied no doubt from an autograph, the surviving manuscript was the work of Münzer’s associate and fellow physician Hartmann Schädel (1440-1514), author of the Nürnberg Chronicle (printed by Anton Koberger in 1493). The Itinerarium manuscript is on line at urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-bsb00015883-3, digitized from microform (consulted 02/11/2022).

Several selections from Münzer’s 1494-1495 Itinerary have been published in translation and are listed here (CXXXV-VI), but this is the only edition of the Latin that is complete and fully annotated. It is not for the faint-hearted: with an introduction and bibliography of 308 pages and another 572 pages of the Latin text, annotations, and indices, it is a vast production aimed at leaving no stone unturned. The introduction is divided into three parts. Part I presents what is known about Münzer, his studies, his library, his writings, letters, his contacts and friends, his interest in the Behaim Globe, his collaboration on the Liber chronicarum of Hartmann Schedel. Part II concerns the 1494-1495 journey in the context of similar journeys and their aims and accomplishments, their ways, means, and participants, ending with an outline of the main stages in Münzer’s itinerary and their dates and durations. Part III analyses the rationale, structure, and content of the Itinerarium and the manuscript that transmits it (Munich, BSB Clm 431). An Appendix by Tina B. Orth-Müller analyses Münzer’s language, noting his classical and patristic allusions (Aristotle, Cicero, Thomas Aquinas), his vocabulary and sentence structure.

A comprehensive bibliography precedes the edition. What makes this edition indispensable is on the one hand its completeness and on the other the detailed commentary and references in the footnotes (conveniently placed at the foot of the page). There is a mine of information here, and together text and notes make fascinating reading. Münzer was interested in topography and landscapes, crops and fruits, peoples and societies, current and past events including plague and war; cities and civic design, monuments--churches and mosques, castles, saints, relics, and epitaphs; but he was less concerned to record sculptural or painted programs, which are rarely described in detail, nor in the performance of the liturgy, which is generally passed over in silence. On occasion he recorded the text of hymns in honor of the saints, such as those addressed to St Mary Magdalen at Saint-Maximin, St Louis of Arles, and St Hilary of Poitiers, but there is no description of the music.

Of particular note are the borrowings Münzer made in Santiago de Compostela from the Liber sancti Jacobi (otherwise known as the Codex Calixtinus or simply Jacobus, preserved in the Archivo de la Catedral--or, as variants suggest, from another copy, no longer extant). Münzer had clearly studied a manuscript of this compilation in situ as he cites passages from Books 1 (the liturgy of the feasts of Santiago, from which he drew on the Veneranda dies sermon), Book III (the Translation of the relics of St James from the Holy Land to Santiago), Book IV (Pseudo Turpin’s account of Charlemagne’s campaign in Spain, including the death of his nephew Roland at Roncesvalles), and Book V (the Pilgrim’s Guide, of which the critical edition is recte by Stones and Krochalis). Here too, Münzer’s interests were more limited than those of the compiler of the Liber as he omits the miracles of Book II and the famous descriptions of the sculpture of the transept portals of the cathedral and the shrine of the saint found in Book V, together with the aesthetics and affect of the upper spaces also found in Book V. The west facade sculpture signed in 1188 by Master Matteo (not in Book V which was composed only c. 1145) is also absent. At the same time Münzer was impressed with the spatial layout of the east end of the cathedral with its radiating chapels, described and rendered in schematic form in the manuscript (f. 173) but showing a misunderstanding of the relationship between choir, ambulatory and chapels (reproduced in color as pl. 6). Also of note is his famous word of skepticism about the accessibility of the relics of St James: Corpus autem a nullo visum est. Etiam anno Domini 1487, dum rex Castelle ibi esset non vidit. Sola fide credimus, que salvat nos homines (f. 181v).

In Salamanca he was impressed with the university, its library, and its holdings, in pergameno in omnni facultate, precipue in philosophia et theologia (f. 185). In Toledo he saw the Moralised Bible presented to Alfonso X by Louis IX of France and commented upon the textual and pictorial layout of the pages, Item bibliam in tribus voluminibus, et duo folia semper subtilissime bituminata de pergameno virginieo, ut in marginibus foliorum primo textus, et sub eo sensus misticus, et in medio ymagines ex auro et lasurio illuminate, historiam representantes (f. 194). In Madrid he pronounced a speech about his travels before King Ferdinand (1452-1516) and Queen Isabella (1451-1504) and gave a description of both persons (ff. 198v-202). In Toulouse, at Saint-Sernin, he was shown relics of St James the Greater, whereupon he referred back to his skeptical response expressed in Santiago concerning the presence of relics of St James, Et quamvis illi in Compostella dicant sanctum Iacobum apud se esse, tamen sola credulitate hoc confirmant (ff. 213-213v). Two further items of interest to Münzer in Toulouse were a partial bible (pars biblie) written in gold letters in a metalwork binding, identified as the Godescalc Gospels, commissioned by Charlemagne in 781and now BnF nal 1203 (f. 213v, shelf mark missing p. 289 n. 40), and a marble sculpture of two women, one holding a lion, the other a ram, ...due virgines, quarum una arietam, alia leonem peperit ad illud verbum ubi dixerunt, adeo possibile esse virginem Mariam parere sine semine, ut ipsae leonem et arietem (ff. 213v-214).Münzer thought the animals were suckling, but this is an error; similarly, his suggested association with the Virgin Mary is unfounded. Unidentified in the notes on p. 289 n. 41, this relief, probably from the west façade of Saint-Sernin, is now in the Musée des Augustins (inv. no. ME 206) and shows the women simply holding the respective animals on their laps. Its precise meaning is uncertain but appears to relate to the zodiac and to the ancient world, see https://www.augustins.org/fr/search-notice/detail/me-206-le-signe-09a42 for recent bibliography and interpretations (consulted 3 /11/2022).

On his journey north, Münzer stopped at Saint-Léonard de Noblat, giving a synopsis of the life of the saint, commenting that the church was antiqua et fortis, and noting Leonard’s miracles of freeing prisoners (f. 216); he gave Limoges short shrift, noting the cathedral of Saint-Étienne but not the abbey of Saint-Martial (f. 216v). Might there be an echo here of the twelfth-century Pilgrim’s Guide cited above where much is said about Noblat and St Leonard whereas Limoges is omitted altogether? At the abbey of St Martin at Tours, Münzer was impressed with the abbey buildings, in particular the circular kitchen, represented as a small ground plan inserted in the text body. Like the plan of Santiago, it is also inaccurate in the number of absidal projections housing ovens, in 8 particulares circulos divisus in the text but only 7 in the diagram (f. 223v). A second small diagram in the text on f. 265v represents the labyrinth in the garden of the castle of Beerschot, residence of the abbot of St Michael, Antwerp (pl. 8). There is little consistency in the selection and treatment of diagrams in the manuscript. They are reproduced as 8 plates. Two diagrams are heraldic: on f. 140 is a depiction of a royal shield in the Alhambra at Granada (pl. 1), and on f. 181 in the right margin is a diagram found on the lower part of the botafumeria at Santiago de Compostela, consisting of six arrows forming an X, identified as the insignia of the queen, insigne regine cum missilibus, for Isabelle (d. 1504), hence a contemporary reference and an important idicator of the date of the botafumeria (pl. 5). Two more diagrams are simple geometrical forms: on f. 146v a semicircle in the upper margin illustrates the shape of the kingdom of Granada, Regum Granate...est ad modum semicirculi. (pl. 2); on f. 155v a diagram in the upper margin shows the two harbours of Malaga with their three towers, Et habet duos portus clarissimos quasi duo semicirculi in angulis cum tribus fortissimis turribus (pl. 3).On f. 184 is a marginal plan of the city of the Celtic-Iberian city of Numancia (now thought to be not Zamora, so identified in the Middle Ages, but a site to the east of Soria) and the river Duero (pl. 6 in colour). Thus, two of the eight plates are in colour and the others regretfully taken from the microfiche as in the on-line version noted above.

Returning to Münzer’s route between Tours and Paris: he noted the church of St Aignan at Orléans and the university’s law faculty (f. 228v). From Orléans he passed through Étampes (f. 229v) but not Chartres, surprising for one so concerned with saints and relics.First for Münzer in Paris was the cathedral of Notre-Dame where the gallery of kings merited a mention (f. 230v), followed by the neighboring hospital then the colleges, the houses of the religious orders, the many churches, bridges, squares, and streets. At Saint-Germain-des-Prés he noted the statue of Isis (f. 234). Pride of place went to the Sainte-Chapelle, where Münzer lists the treasures he saw, including the relics of the Passion, but not the nail of the crucifixion, Ideo non poteramus habere clavem nec videre,and the head reliquary of St Louis (ff. 236v-238).Whereas Münzer did take note of the structure of the Sainte-Chapelle on two levels, he did not mention the stained glass nor the sculptures or painted medallions. At Saint-Denis he noted the raised choir and the royal tombs (f. 238v), commenting that the surrounding chapels were beautifully decorated, plures egregie capelle optime decorate eodem modo ut Parisius in ecclesia maiore (f. 238v) but again no mention of the stained glass or the sculpture of the portals; he was most impressed by the treasury objects and reliquaries, each scrupulously identified in the notes from inventory references and modern studies. Possibly what he saw as the vas magnum oblongum ut tina ex marmore prophiritico (f. 239v) might be Suger’s Eagle Vase? At Rouen Münzer compared the cathedral to that of Paris, noting in particular the organ (dating to 1490, cf p. 364, n. 26), egregium organum fistulis et ymaginibus aureis decoratum, and the sculpted choir stalls, sedilia chori sunt pulcerrime sculpta... (f. 245v). From Rouen Münzer’s route took him to the coast at Dieppe, where the threat of piracy and the political troubles deterred him from taking the passage over to England (f. 246v). On via Saint-Josse and Abbeville to Amiens, he made the acquaintance of Louis Mallet de Graville (d. 1516), admiral of France and governor of Picardy and Normandy (f. 249v). Amiens cathedral was pulcrior inter omnes, quas vidimus (f. 249v) and the face of John the Baptist called for considerable commentary (f. 251). From Amiens Münzer passed through Arras, Lille, and Bruges, bene populata et loca multum delectabilia (f. 255) commenting on the bridges and canals, and on the activities of the international traders. After Bruges came Sluis (ff. 259v-260), then Ghent (ff. 262-264). Most remarkable is the description given by Münzer of the Gent altarpiece, commissioned by Joos Vijd and his wife for the Vijd chapel at the parish church of St John, now the Cathedral of St Bavo, by Hubert (d. 1426) and Jan (d. 1441) van Eyck. This is the first and only time that Münzer describes a work of art in detail, habet unam tabulam depictum super unum altare magnum et preciosissimam de pictura (f. 263v) followed by a description of the upper part with God the Father, the Virgin and St John the Baptist, and Adam and Eve; for the lower part he lists the groups of the just: judges, soldiers, hermits and pilgrims, but does not mention the mystic Lamb, the adoration of which is the focus of the lower register. The realism of the painting was what impressed him most, Videntur quasi omnes ymagines vive... (f. 263v). The carved altarpiece of the death of the Virgin at Antwerp elicited similar enthusiasm, Est tabula stupenda, nisi quis videat difficile est credere. Sunt item infinite alie ymagines sanctorum lapidee optimo et subtilissimo artificio sculpte (f. 265). At Cologne cathedral he recounted, somewhat inaccurately, the story of the acquisition of the relics of the Three Kings (f. 270); and was much concerned with commerce and trade along the Rhine (f. 271). Back in Nürnberg he was pleased to be reunited with his wife and daughter (f. 274v).

This volume represents an ambitious undertaking by Herbers and his team and its resulting high standards bode well for the future of the series of travel accounts of which this is the inaugural volume. It is a veritable treasure-trove, a very readable Latin text accompanied by exhaustive references to primary and secondary sources for all the places and monuments that Münzer visited and on which he commented. There are three maps, one showing the journeys of other German travelers in Spain; another showing Münzer’s Italian journey and his west European journey; the third records Münzer’s Itinerarium by chapters. Maps I and II are too small to be readable. It is to be hoped that this will be corrected in future volumes.