Oldenburg Mirror of Saxony

Oldenburg Mirror of Saxony – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – CIM I 410 – Landesbibliothek (Oldenburg, Germany)

Monastery of Rastede (Germany) — 1336

A treasure of art and legal history: one of only four illuminated manuscripts of the first legal text in the history in the German language

  1. One of only four illumined manuscripts of the famous legal text by Eike von Repgow (ca. 1180–1233)

  2. This fundamental text concerning medieval German law is also a rich source of cultural history

  3. Language, jurisdiction, and popular culture: it plainly shows how our generation is rooted in a long gone past

Oldenburg Mirror of Saxony

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  1. Description
  2. Single Page
  3. Facsimile Editions (1)
Oldenburg Mirror of Saxony

The Oldenburg Mirror of Saxony stands out among the numerous various manifestations of the "Mirror of Saxony", one of the oldest works codifying medieval law, because it is one of a very few illustrated manuscripts whose illustrations are condensed in a special picture column and the only example of an illustrated text on territorial and feudal law. Written in German, the language of the people instead of Latin or Greek, it was commissioned by Count John III of Oldenburg to counter the increasing tendency toward uncertainty in legal matters. This document is actually a translation of a now lost Latin original, a copy of which was made for him in 1336 at Rastede Abbey. In addition to being an excellent source for the study of medieval German law, the wealth of miniatures contained therein represent one of the best sources of information on everyday life during that period.

Oldenburg Mirror of Saxony

The group of Mirror of Saxony texts belongs to the earliest works of medieval legal literature. Among more than 400 manuscripts and fragments of this type, the Oldenburg Mirror of Saxony constitutes a particular rarity, as it is one of a very few illustrated manuscripts whose illustrations are condensed in a special picture column and the only example of an illustrated text on territorial and feudal law. The significance of the Oldenburg Mirror of Saxony resides also in its immense value as a source of cultural history. Language, jurisdiction and popular culture, things that have been a part of our everyday lives, become tangible, showing plainly how our generation is rooted in a long gone past. The Oldenburg Mirror of Saxony contains records of applied law which is not written in one of the classical languages of the educated classes, Greek or Latin, but in the vernacular. The text was transcribed by Eike von Repgov from an original Latin version (now lost) into Middle Low German and copied by the Benedictine monk Hinrik Gloyesten in 1336 on the initiative of Count John III of Oldenburg in the Abbey of Rastede.

One of the Earliest Works of Medieval Specialist Literature

When John III ordered the recording of the law, he intended to counter the increasing tendency toward uncertainty in legal matters in his country. The committing to paper of formerly unwritten Saxon customary law was meant to meet the need for securing law and order in this uncertain period. In this respect, the integration of concrete, customary norms into a universal Christian view of the world was a priority. The fact that true Christian convictions were a matter of debate is best exemplified in the Mirror of Saxony: in a bill of 1374, Pope Gregory XI condemned 14 articles of the Mirror as heretical. The title of Mirror was chosen for this book of law because, like the mirror literature of the Middle Ages, it reflected part of the Christian conception of the world which had an exemplary character for a certain domain of life, in this case the legal domain.

A Unique Textbook

The Oldenburg Mirror of Saxony was destined for educational purposes and is of a didactic character, as its pictures and illustrations functioned as mnemonic technical aids. It describes all aspects of contemporary law, both the territorial and the feudal law in force at that period. The duties and rights of the individual within certain social circles, unmistakably phrased and enforced by religious and secular courts, form the starting point from which all further details are treated. The reader is thus instructed in legal matters in a very impressive manner. The instructive contents are supported by illustrations that are executed with great craftsmanship to accompany the text in a previously laid out picture column. These are either lavishly colored or simply outlined pen drawings. From folio 87, the illustration is interrupted and the picture strip remains empty whereas the text is decorated with numerous initials throughout. The script used for the Oldenburg codex is a Gothic textura, which was common for manuscripts of quality decoration. The script is of good and regular quality over long passages, thus betraying the hand of an experienced and diligent scribe. The text is generally very readable because of its broad ductus. In an essential aspect, the illustrations go well beyond the text: besides the typological patterns from which all medieval picture compositions are derived, they contain a wealth of details concerning everyday life of that period. The faithful and detailed depiction of clothes, utensils, arms, exterior and interior architectures as well as the postures and gestures of the figures in this code of law offer an inexhaustible source for research into everyday medieval life.

The Commentary Volume

A text volume encompassing the full transcription of the Middle Low German text and a translation by Werner Peters and Wolfgang Wallbraun accompanies the facsimile edition. It also comprises a codicological and palaeographic introduction by Wolfgang Milde. The comprehensive scholarly commentary was edited by Ruth Schmidt-Wiegand on the initiative of the Niedersächsische Sparkassenstiftung, Hannover and contains articles by reputed researchers who explain the manuscript and its background in all detail.


Alternative Titles
Oldenburger Sachsenspiegel
Size / Format
272 pages / 32.8 × 22.8 cm
All pages illustrated alongside the text
Count John III of Oldenburg (1302–42)
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Oldenburg Mirror of Saxony – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – CIM I 410 – Landesbibliothek (Oldenburg, Germany)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1995
Limited Edition: 530 copies
Single Page

Oldenburg Mirror of Saxony

Author Portrait / Landrecht

This page, the beginning of the section on Landrecht or “customary law”, also has a portrait of the author – Eike von Repgow. He is seated on a throne and flanked by his coat of arms – horizontal stripes of red and gold – as a dove with a halo, representing the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, drops the manuscript he is about to write in his lap.

Below we see an image of a serene, perhaps even happy Christ holding a sword in one hand and making a sign of benediction in the other. He sits between a king and a monster with another grotesque in its mouth, perhaps a symbol of the Hellmouth. This and the image of Christ blessing a naked sinner represent the God-given order of the universe in combination with the mercy of his son.

Der Oldenburger Sachsenspiegel
Facsimile Editions

#1 Der Oldenburger Sachsenspiegel

Limited Edition: 530 copies
Binding: Red leather with blind embossing and 2 brass clasps (imitation of the original cover manufactured in 1877). All folios are cut according to the original.
Commentary: 2 volumes (352/324 pages) by Ruth Schmidt-Wiegand, Werner Peters, and Wolfgang Wallbraun
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.
Price Category: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
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