Very rare illustrated Psalter, the only work printed on the Zinna Monastery press, one of the most beautiful incunables illustrated with woodcuts.
It’s the first version of this Psalter devoted to Mary, and the only one printed in Latin. The Emperor Frederick III of Hapsburg was appealed to cover the illustration and printing expenses of this precious volume executed within the Zinna Cistercian Monastery (Klosters Zinna, in Brandenbrug) under the auspices of the Confraternity of the Rosary. Frederick died in 1493, and the financing of the work was completed by his son, Maximilian I (1459-1519).
Hermann Nitzschewitz, who died in 1503, was vicar and imperial protonotary in Lüneburg. His illustrated Psalter, a wonderful repertory of miracles contained in the New Testament, was composed as a spiritual viaticum meant for containing the fear of the Turkish invasion. This plan took with no doubt shape after the meeting of a commission held in 1489 about the Ottoman matter in the Reichstag of Nuremberg and to which the prince Elector of Brandenburg, sovereign of the author, assisted.
“This new “Marienpsalter” apparently was intended as a spiritual weapon against the ever-increasing power of the Turk. It owed its origin to the revival in 1475 of the old Rosenkranz-Brüderschaft by J. Sprenger, the prior of the Dominican convent at Cöln... Nitzschewitz finished the book in 1489, but it was not until Sept. 1492 that he received the Emperor's commission to print. The typographical part, however, was probably not commenced until Maximilian's succession in Aug. 1493... This book would be the first of the several magnificent publications encouraged by the Emperor” (Hugh W. Davies, in Fairfax Murray).
The wood engraved illustration– very rich, rough and vivid – is one of the masterpieces of 15th century engraving.
It is composed of 167 woodcuts in first issue, of which 165 illustrate the Psalter (about 77 x 86 mm) and 2 full-page repeated on the first leaf (about 170 x 112 mm), to which many historical ornamental borders are added, made of 6 vertical blocks (about 141 x 40 mm) and 8 pairs of horizontal blocks repeated (about 43 x 134 mm). A large and beautiful floral framing, repeated three times, completes the ornamentation.
Dates : the Psalterium b. Mariae virginis of Hermann Nitzschewitz catalogued below is the only book known to have issued from this press, and this (see the note to it) cannot have been printed before August, 1493, nor after 1496. The types used in the Psalterium are previously found in the possession of Conrad Kachelofen at Leipzig, while a Low German version with some of the woodcuts is printed in those used by Johann Luce at Lüneburg (see Gesellschaft für Typenkunde, pl. 106). The Psalterium may thus have been printed by Kachelofen, possibly during his absence from Leipzig in 1495-6, after he had finished the Meissen Missal at Freiberg (see note to Kachelofen, p. 622), and the German version with type bought from Luce when the latter gave up printing. Or the Psalterium may have been printed with type borrowed from Kachelofen late in 1493, and the wood-blocks sold to Luce, who could then have printed the German version at Lüneburg in 1493-4.
Of the two full-page woodcuts the first (1a) represents the Virgin and Child in glory above, Frederick on her right, Maximilian on her left, each with a banner-bearer. Below kneel four praying figures with rosaries Albert von Klitzing, dean of Magdeburg ('Alber cli deca'), with his arms, three Tartar caps, Adoif von Anhalt, Dompropst of Magdeburg ('Adol fposi mag'), with his arms, those of Anhalt impaling Saxony and old Anhalt, Nicolaus, abbot of Zinna ('Nico. abbas Cenne'), with the arms of the monastery, a cross with the letters mors, and a crozier, a religious, probably intended for the author. The second cut (1b) represents Frederick, from whose breast grows a vision of the Virgin and Child standing on the crescent moon, kneeling before an altar, and handing on his sword to Maximilian who kneels behind him, the imperial eagle on a shield below. There are 166 smaller cuts, and six side-pieces and eight pairs of foot-pieces are constantly repeated. On 2a and 17a is a floral border in three pieces. (See Otte, Das neutestamentliche Bilderbuch des H. Nitzschewitz vom Jahre 1489, in Neue Mitteilungen d. thür.-sächs. Vereins für Erforschung d. vaterl. Altertums, Bd xv.)
An exceedingly rare work, of which only three or four copies appeared on the rare book market since 1945.
1) May 9th 1978, the Broxbourne copy was sold for £ 35,200 ($ 63,000) 38 years ago.
2) April 8th 1981, the Sexton copy (rebacked and repaired, some repairs and tears) was sold for $ 46,000 35 years ago.
3) November 20th 1985, the Brooke copy, in a recent binding, was sold for 35 000 €, 31 years ago.
In 30 years, the price of these great illustrated incunables has been multiplied by 4.
Goff, N-260 ; Hain, 11891* ; Schreiber 4859 ; CIBN, N-150 ; Schäfer, 252 (copy Perrins - Broxbourne) ; Proctor, 3226 ; BMC, III, 700 ; GW, M-27158 ; Fairfax Murray (German), 309 ; Hind, I, 286 ; F. K. Clajus, "Der Marienpsalter der Klosterdruckerei Zinna vom Jahre 1493", in : Das Antiquariat, 13 (1957), n° 8/9, pp. 193-196 ; E. Hühns, "Der Marienpsalter des Klosters Zinna", in : Beiträge zur Inkunabelkunde, 3e série, n° 6 (1975), pp. 38-43 ; on the identity of the printer, see : Geldner, Inkunabeldrucker, I, 286.