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Reviewed by:
  • Buchdruck und Buchkultur im Wittenberg der Reformationszeit ed. by Stefan Oehmig
  • Louis J. Reith
Buchdruck und Buchkultur im Wittenberg der Reformationszeit. Edited by Stefan Oehmig. Schriften der Stiftung Luthergedenkstätten in Sachsen-Anhalt, 21. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2015. 363pp.

This collection of thirteen essays resulted from a two-day Symposium in Wittenberg in March 2013 on “Book Printing and Book Culture in Reformation Wittenberg.” A central concern of the Symposium was the oft-repeated dictum of Bernd Moeller: “Without the printing of books, no Reformation” (18). That motto highlights the introductory essay of Thomas Kaufmann, who attributes to the Roman Papacy and its mass printings of indulgences major responsibility for jump-starting the German book printing industry. Kaufmann credits Erdmann Weyrauch for turning Bernd Moeller’s thesis on its head: “Without the Reformation, no mass printing of books” (22).

The essays point to individual printers who collectively transformed the provincial university town of Wittenberg into a major European book publisher by the end of the sixteenth [End Page 483] century. Christoph Reske examines five Humanist printers of Pre-Reformation Wittenberg—Nikolaus Marschalk, Wolfgang Stöckel, Hermann Trebelius, Johannes Rhau-Grunenberg, and Symphorian Reinhart—who published research by Humanist professors at the new university. Ulrich Bubenheimer argues persuasively that printed indulgences and exhibits of Christian relics in pre-Reformation Halle instigated printed counter-attacks by Luther and Karlstadt.

Martin Treu traces how artist Lucas Cranach the Elder began his second career as a printer, first by supplying the university with paper, then by teaming up with Christian Döring, a goldsmith, to publish Luther’s German New Testament, complete with elaborate Cranach woodcuts. Stefan Oehmig focuses attention upon Nickel Schirlentz, a relatively unknown Wittenberg printer who published many treatises of Karlstadt until the Wittenberg university and city fathers threatened Schirlentz and his fellow printers “with serious punishment and pain” if they continued to print unapproved writings (129). The printing of numerous Luther treatises in 1522/1523 restored Schirlentz’s financial profits while bolstering his tarnished reputation. Uwe Schirmer’s analysis of printers Christian Döring, Hans Lufft, and Samuel Selfisch includes a citation from the Wittenberg tax rolls of 1542 that identifies Martin Luther as the city’s wealthiest inhabitant at that time (181).

Two essays turn attention to the role played by music and liturgy in Wittenberg printing. Jürgen Heidrich depicts Georg Rhau as a music publisher, humanist, and composer with an ambitious long-range agenda for covering the Reformation’s liturgical needs. Among the examples of Rhau’s illustrated musical publications are some “confessionally appropriate” choral motets for the Fürstenschulen, schools for princes, in Saxon Meissen and Grimma, in which Elector John Frederick I and the Reformers Luther and Melanchthon are praised by name (198ff.). Eberhard Nehlsen unveils his index of 4,536 printed pamphlets containing texts of popular songs and hymns, only a few of them printed in Wittenberg. Thomas Fuchs bemoans the scarcity of historiographical publications in the city—only 2.7% of the total—the majority of them by Melanchthon and his circle. Their significance for Wittenberg printing becomes clearer in Michael Schilling’s analysis of illustrated Melanchthonian [End Page 484] pamphlets, especially those depicting a famous dream from December 21, 1546 (unfortunately not shown here). Andrew Pettegree offers a refreshing Scottish summary at the end of the volume. An appended list of abbreviations and index of names and places improve the readability of the text, which clearly is intended more for scholars than for the general public.

Ulrike Ludwig’s essay on the origins of the Wittenberg University Library, and Hans-Peter Hasse’s fresh look at the library of a Calvinist dissident, Claudius Textor, were the most interesting essays for this reviewer (himself a retired librarian). The university library began with Elector Frederick the Wise’s private book collection, augmented by Georg Spalatin’s purchases from Aldus Manutius in Venice and the personal caches of deceased university professors. But in 1547, Elector John Frederick I, exiled to Weimar after the Schmalkaldic War, took with him “his” book collection of 3,132 inventoried items, leaving it to gifts and private professorial collections to replenish the empty shelves back in Wittenberg. Later...


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