Everyday medieval law and the oldest German-language prose: the "predecessor of Basic Law", adorned with no less than 776 Gothic miniatures

Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony

Upper Saxonia - Germany — Third quarter of the 14th century

Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony

Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony

Upper Saxonia - Germany — Third quarter of the 14th century

  1. Germanic law passed down orally over the centuries was first recorded in this authoritative law book

  2. 776 Gothic illustrations accompanying the first recorded German prose in this most splendid specimen

  3. The rich illumination makes the manuscript a source of both medieval law and daily life

Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony

Alternative Titles:
  • Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

The Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel is a 14th century manuscript whose significance for German legal history cannot be overstated. One of the most widely-disseminated books of the Middle Ages, it was written in German instead of Latin, as was common at the time. In it, ancient Germanic law that had been passed down orally over the centuries was now preserved on parchment, giving a sense of law and order to a turbulent historical epoch. Aside from its important content specifying various legal rights and relationships, it contains 776 Gothic illustrations of the highest quality. These miniatures not only serve to decorate the text, but clarify it in close conjunction. This gem of German legal history is housed today in Wolfenbüttel's Herzog August Library.

Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel

The Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel (Mirror of Saxony) is dated from the third quarter of the 14th century and is the youngest of four surviving illuminated manuscripts representing the most important German law book from the Middle Ages; the Sachsenspiegel. Only a small number of Codices come close to the outstanding quality of its painted-drawings and the extensive breadth of traditional text found in the Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel. Nonetheless, even these codices cannot compare with the perfect preservation of intense colors and gold contained in these hand-painted pictures. With the finest reception of the text and splendidly colored paintings, the Wolfenbütteler is without question the most precious example of illustrated codices of the Sachsenspiegel.

"Spegel der Sassen"

No other book has influenced the history of German law as much as the Sachsenspiegel. After centuries of being passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth alone, the deep rooted common laws of the Middle-Ages were finally put in writing for the first time: thus the Sachsenspiegel was born. The author, Eike von Repgow did not compose his work in the usual language of the educated peoples of the Middle-Ages (which was either Greek or Latin), but rather in the language of his native homeland in lower Germany. In so doing, he not only created the most important and lasting effectual work that remains unsurpassed today, but also a work which represents the first prose written in the German language. Eike's masterpiece was able to counter the ever-growing feeling of legal insecurity at that time: the power struggles between the Staufern and Welfen families, between Kaiser and Pope, all played out against a background of German colonization in the Slavic settled areas. Given the enormity of social and political unrest, the only chance for peace and order was to have a written recording of every law that every person was to abide by. This was the driving force behind Eike von Repgows' recording, a written documentation of age-old norms passed down by the forefathers to ensure their preservation for future generations to come.

A Milestone in the History of German Law

Eikes text spread outward from Saxony, laying the foundation for the emergence of the Deutschenspiegel (Mirror of the Germans) and the Schwabenspiegel (Mirror of Swabians) in southern Germany. These collections that were translated into Latin, Danish, Polish, Tschechenian, and Russian spread as far as middle and eastern Europe, the lower Rhine Valley, and the Netherlands. This work had a powerful territorial effect covering an enormous timespan and was, for this reason, held as the authoritative law book for the next seven centuries. By the end of the 19th century it was replaced by the Bürgerliche Gesetzbuch (Civil Law Book). As a source of law and also because of its' European dimension, the Sachsenspiegel is no less fascinating for the world today.

Content of the Sachsenspiegel

The law book Sachsenspiegel addresses questions of rights in villages and between neighbors in Saxony, containing the laws of the land as well as laws of ownership and the martial law regarding knights that had an enormous importance during the Middle-Ages. In the prologue, the author conjures up the divine origins of the law – "God is the Law, this is why he holds it dear" – and his writing calls upon all people to not be led astray from this law "neither for love nor sorrow, rage nor gifts". Following the prologue, the laws are separated into three books comprised of 255 articles pertaining to laws governing villages, neighbors, the family – inheritance laws, constitutional laws, criminal law, laws of the court, and procedural law. The second main part of his work is contained in one book with 86 articles dealing with norms of ownership i.e. proportional ownership between a feudal lord and his vassals (the feudal system).

The Four Illustrated Manuscripts of the Sachsenspiegel

Over 450 preserved manuscripts and fragments in existence today show the extreme importance of the Sachsenspiegel in public life during this time. Found among them are four especially brilliant illuminated codices whose text is accompanied throughout by splendid pictures that clarify the given text. The boundless wealth of information about the daily life of both knight and peasant and the enormity of details regarding their everyday routine make these manuscripts a virtually inexhaustible source of knowledge for cultural history in general and the Middle-Ages in particular. The four codices derive their names from the places where they are stored. The Heidelberger Illustrated Manuscript dates from around 1300 – it is an assortment of 30 pages with 310 pictures and is maintained only in fragments. The Oldenburger Sachsenspiegel, dated 1336, offers the most complete text of the four codices but only 44 of the 578 hand-painted pictures remain preserved with intact colors. The rest contain only colorless outlines of figures and objects. However, from an especially artistic point of view and value, the other two manuscripts are the most important. Both the Dresdner Codex (dated from the mid-14th century) and the Wolfenbüttleler Sachsenspiegel (emerging a short while later) contain hand-painted pictures of the highest quality, which depict real-life scenes with animated facial expressions and gestures of the figures as well as a rich application of gold throughout.

A Colorful Panorama of Middle-Age Life

776 painted pictures are laid out over 86 pages unfolding a splendid, colorful panorama of the laws for everyday life in the 14th century before the reader. The paintings can be found on every page, on the left-hand side or beneath text where room allows. Since part of the painting envelops the first word in an accompanying text, the correlation between text and picture is easy to follow. Additionally, the pictures are more than merely beautiful illustrations but also help to clarify and give a better understanding of the text. Important cultural and historical significance is attached to the additional information found within the pictures themselves. The drawings depict individuals of differing social groups, interior and exterior architectures, weaponry, landscapes, household belongings, cuisine, and jewelry, all of which offer an invaluable source for further study and exploration of everyday life in the Middle-Ages.

A Law Book as Luxurious Manuscript?

The extraordinary and gorgeous illuminations found on every page, richly-endowed with gold, and the high quality lettering and decorative initials of the meticulous and consistent gothic text make the Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel a truly luxurious manuscript. However, its main purpose was the application of its content. This can be shown as well by the presence of holes, tears and irregularities found in the manuscript indicating the fact that use of the highest quality parchment was not of concern. In addition, the many darkened pages show repeated and frequent use of the book. We can therefore only assume that the Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel was made for a very important person who used the manuscript for its intended purpose.

History of the Manuscript

The Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel most likely originated in the third quarter of the 14th century in Upper Saxony. Its patron, scribes, and illuminators are not known, which is the case with most codices of the Middle-Ages. After the completion of the Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel the fate of the manuscript remained a mystery for the next 300 years and has never been deduced. After this point, it was acquired by Herzog August, the youngest son of the Braunschweig-Lüneburg family and the founder of the second and permanent library in Wolfenbüttel. The first mention of the elaborate manuscript is found in Herzog August's hand-written "Bucherrad Katalog" (book catalog). The Herzog August Library remains the permanent resting place of the original Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel to this day.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel
Size / Format
172 pages / 35.0 x 27.0 cm
Date
Third quarter of the 14th century
Style
Gothic
Language
Illustrations
Every page with 4 to 6 scenes decorated (most of them with Gold), 776 pictures in total
Artist / School

2 available facsimile edition(s) of „Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony“

Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Wolfenbüttel Mirror of Saxony – Cod. Guelf. 3.1 Aug. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
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Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 2006
Limited Edition
580
Binding
Blind embossed leather binding with two clasps and four genuine raised bands. Facsimile in wooden slip case.
Commentary
2 volumes
Language: German
More Information
All folios are cut according to the original.
Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel
Imageof

Wolfenbütteler Sachsenspiegel

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Limited Edition
-
Binding
Red linen binding
Commentary
2 volumes
Language: German
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