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Book of the Month

February 2005

Maximilian I and Melchior Pfintzing


Nuremberg: 1517
Sp Coll Hunterian At.1.10

The February book is a chivalric romance that relates the many adventures of Emperor Maximilian I during his journey to the Netherlands to fetch his bride, Mary of Burgundy. Produced in 1517, this triumph of book design has been described as one of the greatest books of the German Renaissance.

Illustration from chapter 98:  Teuerdank is received by Ernreich

Maximilian I (1459-1519) - archduke of Austria, German king, and Holy Roman emperor (1493-1519) - was one of the most important patrons of the arts in the sixteenth century. Politically ambitious and a talented militarist, he successfully augmented his Habsburg family power by force and by strategy. A product of a transitional age, he can also be described as the first humanist emperor of the Renaissance, with an enthusiasm for new scientific ideas as well as the arts.

Many of Maximilian's artistic endeavours were fuelled by his desire to achieve posthumous fame. He made his court a major centre for the arts; in a bid to become immortal, he supported music, planned grand architectural monuments, collected an important library and encouraged printing. He was also fascinated by his family history, commissioning genealogical studies to provide him with eminent ancestors including Caesar, Charlemagne and King Arthur.

As well as commissioning works of literature, Maximilian himself was a prolific author. Indeed, the Teuerdank is traditionally ascribed to him. While Maximilan will have undoubtedly planned the work in detail, it should more correctly be attributed to Melchior Pfintzing, his chaplain, who worked extensively on the text in accordance with the Emperor's instructions. Some commentators also credit Maximilian's secretary, Marx Treitzsauerwein, with some responsibility for the writing. Certainly, the whole concept took a long time to complete: originally planned in 1505, the poem did not near completion until 1512, and took a further five years to be produced.


Illustration from chapter 36: Unfallo starts an avalanche

The end product is a long allegorical courtly poem written in rhymed couplets. This epic is a fictionalised account of the adventures of Maximilan as he travels to the Netherlands in 1477 to claim his bride, Mary of Burgundy, and her kingdom. Maximilian is portrayed as the chivalric knight, Teuerdank (the name roughly translates as 'noble thought') accompanied by his trusty companion Erenhold.

Illustration from chapter 96: Teuerdank is given poisoned food

The story begins when Romreich (Charles of Burgundy), the father of Erenreich (Mary) dies. Teuerdank sets out and is beset by no less than eighty different life threatening adventures in his quest to reach his betrothed. These are engineered by Erenreich's most powerful vassals - Fürwittig, Neidelhart and Unfallo - whose power is threatened by Teuerdank; they therefore try to kill him en route, thereby preventing the marriage. Thus, Teuerdank encounters dangerous hunting expeditions in which he is given unsafe weapons; he is led into the path of organised 'accidents' such as broken staircases, rockfalls and snow slides; he is given poisoned food to eat; he sets sail in stormy seas and his ship goes on fire; mercenaries are paid to engage him in jousts. Ultimately, of course, our hero overcomes these perils by his bravery, foresight, skill and knowledge. The treachery of his three adversaries is revealed and they are executed. The book ends as Mary promises to marry Teuerdank on the proviso that he first furthers his honour by undertaking a crusade against the Turks.

One of three autobiographical texts planned by Maximilian, the Teuerdank was the only work finished in his lifetime. The Weisskunig ('White King') was to have been the first instalment, celebrating his childhood and youthful exploits; although 237 illustrations were made for this, it was not published until 1775, in a fragmentary version. The last part, the Freydal, was even less complete when Maximilian died in 1519.

Illustration from chapter 72:  Teuerdank sails through a terrifying storm

Illustration from chapter 64:  Teuerdank sails through a whirlpool

The Teuerdank, meanwhile, enjoyed considerable success. While this first edition of 1517 was intended for private distribution, an edition for general sale appeared two years later and subsequent editions were produced regularly throughout the sixteenth century.

Illustration from chapter 55: Unfallo hurls stones

Contemporary enthusiasm for it has been attributed partly to Maximilian's popularity and partly to its striking illustrations and fine design. As a work of literature, it is disparaged by the Oxford Companion to German Literature for having wooden verse and repetitive construction. Others go so far as to dismiss it as doggerel.
The full title of the work, as shown here, translates as The adventures and a portion of the story of the praiseworthy, valiant, and high-renowned hero and knight, Lord Tewrdannckh. Printed on vellum, the book was made with a special font of ornamental type, characterised by enormous flourishes. At first glance, this is often mistaken for manuscript. This black-letter typeface was based on a gothic script used in the Imperial Chancery; it was first used in 1513 in the Prayer-Book of Maximilian I. A later version of the type came to be known as 'Fraktur' type.


Detail of correction to the text

Considering that the book was produced only some sixty years after the introduction of printing by moveable type, its fine execution is all the more remarkable. It was printed by Hans Schönsperger, the Elder. In 1508 he had been appointed for life as Maximilian's printer. The result of his work was a major achievement, although by no means perfect: mistakes in the original typesetting have been carefully corrected throughout by means of pasted lines of text.

Illustration from chapter 52: Teuerdank is nearly struck dead by a storm

Illustration from chapter 101: Teuerdank jousts with another knight

The distinctive type is in perfect harmony with the carefully printed woodcut engravings. There are 118 cuts in all, one for each chapter. It is a superb example of the work being produced in Germany at the time, one of the finest periods for German book illustration. The shift in book illustration from crudely executed cuts to true works of art is usually attributed to the influence of Albrecht Dürer, who carried the art form to new heights in works such as the Apocalypse and the Life of the Virgin. The illustrations in the Teuerdank were produced by a team of artists: Leonard Beck, Dürer's pupil Hans Schaüfelein, and Hans Burgkmair  - a reputable Augsburg artist who was also involved in Maximilian's Genealogie. The drawings they produced were then cut by Jost Dienecker of Antwerp.

Detail of illustration from chapter 39

Like the type, there is a distinctly gothic feel to the illustrations. Many of them are set in wonderful landscapes of Germanic forests and mountains studded with castles.

Illustration from chapter 11: Teuerdank and Ernhold ride to the first pass

Illustration from chapter 39: Unfallo endangers Teuerdank with a gun

Equally redolent of its time and place is the book's overriding concern with the chivalric ideal. The latter half of the fifteenth century had seen a revival of interest in chivalry amongst the aristocracy of Germany. As well as reworking old courtly romances, this enthusiasm extended to holding jousts and tournaments, and a flurry of books on the subject appeared. Maximilian was himself as keen jouster who introduced new innovations to 'chivalric' sports.

Illustration from chapter 108: Ernhold accuses Fürwittig, Neidelhart and Unfallo of treachery

Often referred to as 'the last of the knights', Maximilian modelled himself on King Arthur. As Valentine's Day approaches, we might indulge in this romantic aspect of his character. As the story of the Teuerdank relates, at the age of eighteen he set out to claim Mary, his damsel in distress and daughter of Charles the Bold, his ideal knightly hero. The marriage took place, by procuration, on 21st April 1477 at Louvain.

Illustration from chapter 17: Teuerdank hunts a boar

Mary died in 1482 after only five years of marriage and Maximilian later remarried. It is, however, related that he wept whenever his first wife was mentioned by name. Certainly, he succeeded in recording the quest for his idealised love for posterity in the achievement of this charming and beautifully eccentric book.

Also of interest:

Facsimile edition of the second (1519 Augsburg) edition published by the Holbein Society, 1884, edited by W. Harry Rylands The adventures and a portion of the story of the praiseworthy, valiant, and high-renowned hero and knight, Lord Tewrdannckh Store Bh26-a.18

The following were useful in compiling this article:

Encylopaedia Britannica article 'Maximilian I' Encyclopædia Britannica Online 2005 (consulted 25  January 2005 <>); Henry and Mary Garland The Oxford companion to German literature 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997 Level 9 Main Lib German F41 GAR3; Geoffrey Ashall Glaister Glaister's glossary of the book: terms used in papermaking, printing, bookbinding and publishing with notes on illuminated manuscripts and private presses 2nd ed., completely revised London: Allen and Unwin, 1979  Level 11 Main Lib Bibliog B1:1 1979-G; John Harthan The history of the illustrated book: the Western tradition London: Thames and Hudson, 1981  Level 11 Main Lib Bibliog qB78 1981-H; William Henry Jackson 'The tournament and chivalry in German tournament books fo the Sixteenth Century and in the literary works of Maximilian I' in edited by Christopher Harper-Bill and Ruth Harvey The Ideals and practice of medieval knighthood : papers from the first and second Strawberry Hill Conferences Woodbridge: 1986 Level 8 Main Lib History YR4513 IDE; William C. McDonald; with the collaboration of Ulrich Goebel German medieval literary patronage from Charlemagne to Maximilian I : a critical commentary with special emphasis on imperial promotion of literature Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1973 Level 9 Main Lib German F179 MACDO;  Richard Muther translated by Ralph R. Shaw German book illustration of the Gothic period and the early Renaissance (1460-1530) Metuchen, N.J.: 1972  Level 11 Main Lib Bibliog qB81:1 1884-M2; Wake Forest University website article on 'Hans Burgkmair' accessed on 25 January 2005 (; Gerhild S. Williams 'The Arthurian model in Emperor Maximilian's autobiographic writings Weisskunig and Theuerdank' Sixteenth Century Journal XI, no. 4, 1980, pp3-22 History Periodicals.




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Julie Gardham February 2005