Aesopus - Vita et Fabulae

Museum Otto Schäfer (Schweinfurt, Germany)

Alternate Titles:

Esopo - Vita e Favole

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Esopo - Vita e Favole

Type
Extent / Format

550 pages / 30.5 x 22.5 cm

Origin
Date
1476
Style
Genre
Language
Artist / School

Author: Aesop (620–564 BC)
Printer: Johannes Zainer
Woodcuts: Jörg Syrlin the Older

Illustrations

191 colored woodcut illustrations

Short description

The so-called Ulm Aesop belongs among the most significant specimens of the fables by the ancient author Aesop in the history of book art. Published ca. 1476 by the Ulm humanist and translator Heinrich Steinhöwel, the book contains 190+ colored woodcuts across 550 pages. These are ascribed to Jörg Syrlin d.Ä., the famous Master of the Choir Stalls in the Ulm Minster. The Ulm Aesop was printed by Johann Zainer in the Ulmer Offizin and contains all of the Aesop’s Fables that were known at that time along with an entertaining biography of Aesop.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Aesopus - Vita et Fabulae

The so-called Ulm Aesop belongs among the most significant specimens of the fables by the ancient author Aesop in the history of book art. Published ca. 1476 by the Ulm humanist and translator Heinrich Steinhöwel, the book contains 190+ colored woodcuts across 550 pages. These are ascribed to Jörg Syrlin d.Ä., the famous Master of the Choir Stalls in the Ulm Minster. The Ulm Aesop was printed by Johann Zainer in the Ulmer Offizin and contains all of the Aesop’s Fables that were known at that time along with an entertaining biography of Aesop.

The Trendsetting Aesop Specimen

The entertaining and instructive animal fables by Aesop (ca. 620-560 B.C.E) still have meaning today. They founded the literary genre of moralizing fables. The stories have enjoyed great popularity and were handed down in numerous manuscripts and translations from Greek since antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages. With the invention of the printing press, Aesop’s Fables enjoyed a renewed heyday. The moralizing stories were illustrated with woodcuts in many editions. The most famous of these editions is the Ulm Aesop. The humanist and translator Heinrich Steinhöwel (1412-1482/3) published it in 1476 with Latin text and the German translation. In this way, he made the fables comprehensible for everyone. In his edition of Aesop, Steinhöwel assembled all of the known fables by Aesop at that time and an entertaining biography of Aesop, the author of the moralizing stories. Additionally, Steinhöwel attached a few tales by Poccio Bracciolini, a famous Italian Renaissance humanist, to his Aesop edition. The Ulm Aesop, printed by Johann Zainer, was style-forming for the following epochs. The Ulm Aesop was reprinted across all of Europe, though the impressive woodcuts of the original specimen from Ulm remain unparalleled.

Impressive Illustrations by a Great Master

Alongside the text by Heinrich Steinhöwel, the Ulm Aesop is impressive above all because of its artistic design. This is ascribed to Jörg Syrlin d.Ä. (ca. 1425-1491), the master of the Ulm Minster’s famous choir stalls. Over 190 woodcuts accompany the text. Both the plasticity and spatiality of the scenery as well as the design of the figures depicted are stylistically outstanding. Both animals as well as people are drawn with expressive facial expressions and gestures, which wonderfully render the content of the fables in gorgeous pictures. The various kinds of animals are additionally remarkable in their naturalistic depiction. In addition to the woodcuts, the text is designed with diverse colored initials.
Aesop’s Fables, meant to be understood like parables, have lost nothing of their impressive and entertaining nature. Just as in antiquity, the Middle Ages, or the Renaissance, these tales, e.g. of the fox and the grapes or of the amorous lions, are a great pleasure both as entertaining literature as well as useful reading. The moralizing tales are crowned with colorful woodcuts by Jörg Syrlin in the famous specimen of the Ulm Aesop.

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