A Nuremberg notary’s Wittenberg bible

The remarkable calf binding of this Wittenberg bible has been painted with miniature half-length portraits of the reformers Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon. Both figures hold an open book, signifying the gospel. Bearing the date 1581 and the initials ‘G.M.N.’ and ‘S.R.W.’, this volume was evidently a precious object to its original owner. The expense and effort lavished on this binding is indicative of intense devotion to the Lutheran cause. Containing Genesis and Exodus, this is the first of a ten-volume, parallel Latin-German edition of the Scriptures, initially published in 1565. Inside, annotations on the pastedown indicate that in 1600 this was part of the library of a pious Nuremberg notary public called Frederick Gunther, while an inscription on the title-page indicates that by 1685 it had passed into the possession of another legal professional of the same Bavarian city, which had embraced the Reformation in 1525 and was the home of the artist Albrecht Dürer. During Luther and Melanchthon’s lifetimes, students, theologians and other people travelled to Wittenberg to ask them to write in their bibles. Portraits of these Protestant heroes were often added. Many examples of these personalised objects have been preserved. AW

Biblia Germanico-Latina (Wittenberg, [Johannes Schwertel], 1574).

CUL: BSS 228. B74

By kind permission of Bible Society

Further Reading

Euan Cameron, ‘The Luther Bible’, in Euan Cameron (ed.), The New Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 3, From 1450 to 1750 (Cambridge, 2016), pp. 217-38.

Ulinka Rublack, Reformation Europe (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 161-3.

Ulinka Rublack, ‘Grapho-Relics: Lutheranism and the Materialisation of the Word’, in Alexandra Walsham (ed), Relics and Remains (Past and Present Supplement 5, 2010), pp. 144-66.

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