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.

Cite this blog post
portrezetres (2020, June 29). Some reflections on the illustrated editions of the German translations of Celestina. Por treze, tres. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from

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