Cologne Bible 1478/1479

Cologne Bible 1478/1479 – Friedrich Wittig Verlag – Bibl.Th.I.A.57 (Ink.) – Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf, Germany)

Cologne (Germany) — 1478/1479

Formative for the epoch-defining pictorial power of later works by Cranach, Dürer, and Koberger: the first printed Bible in Low German with 123 magnificent woodcuts by three gifted masters

  1. The Cologne Bible was printed in both the Low Saxon and Low Rhenish dialects

  2. 109 of the 123 woodcuts were purchased and reused by Anton Koberger (ca. 1440/1445–1513)

  3. Although they remain anonymous, the hands of up to three masters are evident in the woodcuts

Cologne Bible 1478/1479

Bibl.Th.I.A.57 (Ink.) Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf, Germany)
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Cologne Bible 1478/1479

The Cologne Bible of 1478/1479 is a significant work of the incunable period because it is the first Bible in Low German and its 123 woodcuts, primarily illustrating the five books of Moses and the Apocalypse, were reused or recut for subsequent Bibles as well as influencing artists such as Albrecht Dürer and Matthäus Merian. Although the work is an early print it is by no means primitive: Anton Koberger bought 109 of the woodcuts after having many of them masterfully colored and repeated the series in his High German Bible printed in Nuremberg in 1483. The image of Creation is considered to be one of the most beautiful woodcuts of any early printed Bible and presents the Ptolemaic, medieval world view of the cosmos in artistic glory. It is theorized that up to three unknown masters created the woodcuts, which are characterized by rich backgrounds in which secondary scenes are often embedded.

Cologne Bible 1478/1479

This manuscript is a milestone both in the development of the German language and the development of the art of printing and engraving. It is one of the first printed Bibles furnished with woodcuts that are as artistically refined as the contemporary miniatures of the period. The splendid, lively woodcuts are embedded into the relevant texts and characters are often labelled to for the ease of the reader. Four of the text pages are adorned by highly detailed historiated frames with dense tendrils. Heinrich Quentell (d. 1501) and Bartholomäus von Unckel (active 1247–84) are credited with printing the well adorned Bible in the “Zum Pallas” publishing house in Cologne.

The Splendor of Creation

One of the most beautiful woodcuts in an early Bible print is the Creation image, which was copied and colored by Anton Koberger for his Bible of 1483. The picture shows the entire cosmos according to the Ptolemaic, medieval world view: God the creator and sustainer of the world rules the universe. Without the problems of space and time, the medieval artist depicts God on the one hand as the Blessing One, pouring out His Spirit, and on the other hand as the Creator in Paradise, where He separates the androgyne, Adam as an asexual being, into Adam and Eve, giving rise to sexuality. This is commonly understood as the subordinate creation of woman from Adam's rib, which is depicted in the miniature.
Furthermore, the woodcut shows the idea of the still prehistoric earth as a disc swimming in the primeval ocean populated by strange creatures. Above it rises the firmament with the sun, moon, and stars around which in the spiritual sky the 24 elders (Rev. 4:4) are turned toward and worship almighty God. The circle, symbol of perfection, is embedded in a square into which four winds blow – a sign of earthly, but limited perfection also symbolizing the limitations of trying to visually conceive of the infinite.


Alternative Titles
De Keulse Bijbel
Cologne Bible 1478/1479
Cologne Twin Bibles of 1479
Cologne Picture Bible
Kölner Bilderbibel
Size / Format
1088 pages / 40.5 × 29.0 cm
123 woodcuts, 4 decorative pages
The first Low German Bible
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Cologne Bible 1478/1479 – Friedrich Wittig Verlag – Bibl.Th.I.A.57 (Ink.) – Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf, Germany)
Friedrich Wittig Verlag – Hamburg, 1979
Limited Edition: 200 copies
Detail Picture

Cologne Bible 1478/1479


One of the most beautiful early woodcuts condenses the cosmos into a single image. Unbound by the problems of space and time, the artist depicts God both bestowing his blessing by pouring out his spirit and as the Creator in Paradise, separating Eve from the side of Adam as the animals – a unicorn included – look on. Earth is depicted at the center of the universe according to the Ptolemaic model swimming in a cosmic ocean full of strange creatures surrounded by the sun, moon, and stars. The 24 elders face towards God and worships him. This image, a circle embedded in a square, symbolizes perfection, but the four winds blowing in the corner are a sign of earthly imperfection.

Cologne Bible 1478/1479 – Friedrich Wittig Verlag – Bibl.Th.I.A.57 (Ink.) – Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf, Germany)
Single Page

Cologne Bible 1478/1479

Opening Page – Book of Revelation

This masterfully printed page is presented within a historiated floral tendril border populated by animals including a dog chasing a hare as well as humans blowing hunting horns, playing bagpipes, and dancing. It also has a bas-de-page woodcut showing the Three Kings paying homage to Baby Jesus as their arms bearers and other members of their entourage look on.

Three more woodcuts are presented above the text of the Book of Revelation, but the first on the left depicts Tertullian’s popular but apocryphal legend that John was unharmed when plunged into a vat of boiling oil in Rome before being exiled to the Aegean Island of Patmos, where he is shown writing the book in the central woodcut. John’s vision of Christ and the seven golden lampstands representing the Seven Churches of Asia is presented on the right.

Cologne Bible 1478/1479 – Friedrich Wittig Verlag – Bibl.Th.I.A.57 (Ink.) – Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf, Germany)
Facsimile Editions

#1 De Keulse Bijbel - Deluxe Edition

Friedrich Wittig Verlag – Hamburg, 1979

Publisher: Friedrich Wittig Verlag – Hamburg, 1979
Limited Edition: 200 copies
Binding: Full leather binding; printed on handmade Van Geldern paper
Commentary: 1 volume by Rudolf Kautzsch
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
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