Some reflections on the illustrated editions of the German translations of Celestina

In my last post, I described how serendipity led to an important discovery with regard to my reseach on the illustrations of the editions of the Italian translation of Celestina. More than a discovery, it was a confirmation of the dramatic status of Celestina in Italy, since the models for the illustrations of the Venice, Cesare Arrivabene, 1519 edition can be traced back to a particular Italian way of illustrating the works of Plautus and Terence in the 16th century. More concretely, there are reasons to believe that the model of Arrivabene’s edition was the Venice, Marchiò Sessa and Pietro Ravanis, 1518 edition of Plautus’ Comoediae in Latin.

A few days after I live-tweeted the whole process of establishing these relationships (follow me for more random thoughts on Celestina and some non-celestinqesque academic and –sometimes– non-academic stuff), serendipity did it again. This time, a colleague of mine asked me if I was familiar with a certain woodcut that looked German. It reminded me of the designs of Jost Amman’s Kunstbüchlin (Johann Feyerabend , Frankfurt am Main, 1599), but it was not among the many woodcuts there, so that I checked some books on jousting and tournaments, without results. Or, at least, without an answer for my colleague because, from the perspective of my research, it was far from being an unfruitful day.

Suddenly, among the “similar books” suggestions in one of the digital libraries I was checking, a title page caught my attention: the Frankfurt am Main, Hermann Schülfferich, 1553 edition of Die schöne Magelona. There it was, the same woodblock used by Heinrich Steiner for his 1534 edition of Christof Wirsung’s second translation of Celestina into German.

Einn recht liepliches büchlin… (Augsburg, Heinrich Steiner, 1534)
Die schoen Magelona (Frankfurt am Main, Hermann Schülfferich, 1553)

Not only that; this edition of Die schöne Magelona reuses the whole woodcuts set, including illustrations that are very tightly bound to the original text of Celestina, like, for example, Calisto’s death or the conversation of the parents of Melibea while she herself and her maid Lucrecia listen through the door:

Die schoen Magelona (Frankfurt am Main, Hermann Schülfferich, 1553 ), ff. A3v and A4r.
Die schoen Magelona (Frankfurt am Main, Hermann Schülfferich, 1553 ), ff. G3v and L2r.

But Schülfferichen was not the first person to associate this set of woodblocks to Die schöne Magelona. In 1535 Heinrich Steiner himself printed the first edition of the text, in which he used just one of the Celestina woodcuts.

Die schoen Magelona (Augsburg, Heinrich Steiner, 1535 )
Die schoen Magelona (Augsburg, Heinrich Steiner, 1535 ), fol. B3v.

In fact, this edition is characterised by a mix of illustrations of great artistic and technical quality, most of them attributable to Hans Weiditz, the artist behind the woodcuts of the German translation of Celestina, and traceable back to the printing press of Max Wirsung and Sigismund Grimm, and less artistic, more functional woodcuts.

Yes, we are in the same book and we are not ashamed of it – Die schoen Magelona (Augsburg, Heinrich Steiner, 1535 ), ff. A4r and J4v.

What is really interesting about Steiner and Schülfferich reusing these woodcuts for their editions of Die schöne Magelona is not what it tells us about how woodblocks went from one printer to the other (which is interesting by itself), but about how German people might have equaled Celestina to the literary genre of romance instead of equaling it to the Roman comedies of Terence and Plautus. Not for nothing, Die schöne Magelona is Veit Warbeck’s translation into German of the French prose romance Pierre de Provence et la belle Maguelonne (ca. 1453). Therefore, it is possible that these two printers saw some kind of similarity between Celestina and Die schöne Magelona, so that they felt that the woodcuts of the former would fit the latter as well. Both tell a love story, after all (however, they could not be more different).

That German printers or, at lest, Heinrich Steiner perceived Celestina rather as prosa than as drama can be confirmed through his use of the full-page woodblock of the Celestina series for his edition of Etliche Historien unnd fabulen gantz lustig zu lesen (Augsburg, Heinrich Steiner, 1541). This text, as its title indicates, is a collection of short narrative stories, among which we find some tales of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, for example, and other stories in which love is one of the driving forces, but it is not limited to it. Therefore, love seems not to be the reason behind Steiner’s choice, but that a story (with a certain amount of action) is being told in prose.

Etliche Historien unnd fabulen gantz lustig zu lesen (Augsburg, Heinrich Steiner, 1541), fol. A2v.

Furthermore, thanks to Fernando Carmona’s answer to one of my tweets on the topic (yes, I did live-tweet this one as well), I checked page 67 of his thesis La recepción de “La Celestina” en Alemania en el siglo XVI (2007) and, following this, I decided to look for pre-1534 illustrated editions of the prosa romances printed by Steiner.

Thereby, I saw with my own eyes that there is a tradition of illustrating prosa stories with more or less detailed depictions of scenes of the text in 16th century Germany, and particularly in Augsburg. This is evident in the editions of the Fortunatus, as well as in the editions of the Melusina (and, for sure, in many more).

Fortunatus, eyne hystorye (Augsburg, Johannes Heybler, 1509), fol. A3v.
Das abenteüerlich Buch beweyset vns von eyner frauwen genant. Melusina (Augsburg, Johann Schönsperger., ca. 1488), fol. 5v.
Die Historie oder Geschichte von der edlen und schönen Melusina (Augburg, Heinrich Steiner, 1538), fol. B1v.

As a result, while in 1519 the Italian printer Cesare Arrivabene was printing the first illustrated edition of the Italian translation of Celestina with the editions of Plautus and Terence in mind, I am very certain that Max Wirsung and Sigismund Grimm were commissioning Hans Weiditz illustrations in the tradition of the Fortunatus and the Melusina, that is, scenes that support the story told in the text. That Steiner, afterwards, specialised in using illustrations with no direct relation to the text is irrelevant. What is important here is that Celestina was not treated like a piece by Plautus or Terence, but as a story told in prose.

Would this explain why the title page of the Zaragoza, Jorge Coci, 1507 edition of the Tragicomedia reuses the very same woodcut that was used for the Zaragoza, Pablo Hurus, 1493 edition of Cárcel de amor, a well-know prose romance, and avoids the Terentian model of the Burgos Comedia? Not for nothing, both Hurus and Coci were German, and they were from Konstanz, a city in the South of Germany, like Augsburg. But this is something that still needs some research.

Some reflections on the illustrated editions of the Italian translation of Celestina

Some weeks ago, after deciding that the banner image of PATRIMONiT looked similar to the woodcuts of the Venice, Cesare Arrivabene, 1519 edition of the Italian translation of Celestina, I entered a frenzy and decided to look for woodcuts that could be attributed to the same artist in sixteenth-century Italian non-Celestina editions. This proved to be a bad take, since the woodcuts of the Venice 1519 edition belong to the kind of scenes that were mass-produced, without particular traits. The artist could have been anyone. The only characteristic that kept catching my attention was that women used to wear a gown with a square cut neckline and the very same hairstyle.

Look at both young women and tell me they do not look similar: Title pages of Celestina. Tragicomedia de Calisto e Melibea (Venice, Cesare Arrivabene, 1519) and Stramboti composti novamente da diversi auctori che sono in preposito a ciaschuno che e ferito damore (Venice, s.i., ca. 1525).

Checking the hairstyles and necklines of some hundreds of woodcuts led me to a particularly interesting one: the Venice, Marchiò Sessa and Pietro Ravanis, 1518 edition of Plautus’ Comoediae in Latin. But I lost my interest in the female character to the left very quickly. The archs in the background became much more relevant. The archs in the background are characteristic of the inner illustrations of Arrivabene’s edition of the Italian translation of Celestina.

Fol. CXXXVv, Comoediae (Venice, Marchiò Sessa and Pietro Ravanis, 1518) and fol. XXXII, Tragicomedia de Calisto e Melibea (Venice, Cesare Arribavene, 1519). For this last woodcut, I recommend checking a former post on how this edition exists in two states, one with this woodcut and one without it.

Even more interesting was that the archs were not exclusive of the above woodcut, but a common feature to most woodcuts of the Venice, Marchiò Sessa and Pietro Ravanis, 1518 edition of Plautus’ Comoediae in Latin.

Look at all these archs in the background!

Provided that Sessa’s edition precedes Arrivabene’s edition by one year, could it have been a model for the woodcuts? At first glance, this seemed a quite logical conclusion. Not for nothing, Marchiò Sessa printed the Italian translation of Celestina in 1531, with Arrevabene’s woodblocks. There could have been some kind of relationship before that. However, I was to discover that Terence’s Comoediae in Latin were also printed with a very similar set of illustrations. In it, archs are replaced by curtains and columns, but the effect and the composition are quite similar.

Comoediae (Milano, Augustinum de Vicomercat, 1521). But the curtain thing goes back to the Venice, Lazarum Soardum, 1504 edition.

Although I still believe that there is a strong point in favour of Sessa’s influence over Arrivabene’s woodcuts, what I find more interesting is that the Italian translation of Celestina is being illustrated according to a characteristically Italian way of illustrating Terence’s and Plautus’ Comoediae. From this point of view, Celestina is being equaled to Roman comedy.

This is not something new to Celestina. I do not need to remember how Griffin found a model for the woodcuts of the Burgos Comedia in the German illustrated editions of Terence. But it is interesting from the point of view of how Italian printers moved from the factotum figures model of Terence’s German editions to something very much of their own. Not that the factotum figures were unknown in Italy. In fact, they were used in the Venice, Lazarum Soardum, 1511 edition of Plautus’ Comoediae.

Comoediae (Venice, Lazarum Soardum, 1511)

This might explain why the printers of the Italian translation of Celestina had no trouble moving to the Spanish series of factotum figures and woodcuts in 1541.

In any case, what interests me most is that serendipity plays a big role in research. Were it not for a banner in an internet site, I could have missed these relationships completely. By mere chance, now I do have a great point of departure for further investigations.

Anejos de la revista Celestinesca

The most important journal in our field, Celestinesca, has undergone some changes since the beginning of 2020. The first and –in my opinion– most important one is having been given the eISSN 2695-7183, which has made possible its reindexing in Latindex, where it figured as “Discontinued”. Moreover, the the kind of license under which articles are published (CC BY 4.0) is more explicit now, since a license button has been added to volumes.

A few days ago the Anejos de la revista Celestinesca were launched as well, with the critical editions of the Comedia and the Tragicomedia by José Luis Canet. I do not know if this means that Celestinesca is preparing itself to publish its own series of celestinesque scholarship or just an effective way to provide Celestina scholars with these editions, but in any case it is always good news that Celestinesca is in good shape and continuosly progressing.

Six adaptations of Celestina at the video library “Teatroteca” of the Centro de Documentación de las Artes Escénicas y de la Música

Screenshot_2020-03-21 INAEM - FichaResultados

Teatroteca, the video library of the Centro de Documentación de las Artes Escénicas y de la Música (CDAEM) of the Instituto Nacional de las Artes Escénicas y de la Música (INAEM) makes available on-line and for free six modern stage adaptations of Celestina:

This is a great chance to watch some of the most important stage adaptations of Celestina of the last decades, in particular for those who were not in Spain when they were in theatres.