ANONYMOUS STRASBOURG PRINTMAKER, active c.1500
Anonymous Strasbourg printmaker, active c.1500
Vergil and Muse
Woodcut, image size 184 x 134 mm (7.2 x 5.3 inch), sheet size 303 x 205 mm (11.9 x 8.1 inch)
A page from the “Strasbourg Vergil,” edited by Sebastian Brant: Publii Virgilii Maronis Opera cum quinque vulgatis commentariis expolitissimisque figuris atque imaginibus nuper per Sebastianum Brant superadditis, published in Strasbourg by Johannis Grieninger, 1502
Private collection, The Netherlands
Sebastian Brant (1458–1521) was a humanist scholar of many competencies. Trained in classics and law at the University of Basel, Brant later lectured in jurisprudence there and practiced law in his native city of Strasbourg. While his satirical poem Das Narrenschiff won him considerable standing as a writer, his role in the transmission of Virgil to the Renaissance was at least as important. In 1502 he and Strasbourg printer Johannes Grüninger produced a major edition of Virgil’s works, along with Donatus’ Life and the commentaries of Servius, Landino, and Calderini, with more than two hundred woodcut illustrations produced by anonymous artists working under Brandt’s direction.1
On the left, Vergil sits at an ornate lectern with a high-backed chair. While this is not explicitly in the poem, Vergil inserts himself in two places within the first several lines, with the first person verb cano in line 1, and then an appeal to the muse in lines 8-11. The Muse mentioned in line 8 stands in front of Vergil in the centre of the image. In the lower right is the Judgment of Paris, which started the events leading up to the Trojan War; the event is mentioned in lines 26-7. Venus, Juno, and Pallas stand next to each other accompanied by their attributes; Paris gives the apple of discord to Venus, who reaches out her hand for it. Behind the three goddesses, Hebe gives Jupiter a cup. This detail comes from the commentary of Servius, who says that Hebe may have given to the gods the cups which Ganymede had the honor of bearing -'"honores' autem dixit vel propter ministerium poculorum, quod exhibuit diis remota Hebe, Iunonis filia" (1.28). Above them, Jupiter in the form of an eagle carries off Ganymede to make him cup-bearer (line 28). At the top of the image is Carthage, with the three Fates, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, sitting in front holding their attributes. Carthage is introduced in lines 12-22, with half a line devoted to the will of the Fates at line 22. The Muse in the center of the image gestures broadly toward Carthage, highlighting its significance.
1.See Julia Frick, ‘Visual Narrative: The Aeneid Woodcuts from Sebastian Brant’s Edition of Virgil (Strasbourg 1502) in Thomas Murner’s Translation of the Aeneid (Strasbourg 1515)’, in: Bart Besamusca, Elisabeth de Bruijn and Frank Willaert (eds.), Early Printed Narrative Literature in Western Europe, 2019, pp. 241-272.