LITERATURE OF THE HEROIC AGE\n\nHELDENBUCH. [Strasbourg: Johann Prüss, c. 1479].\n\nAn extremely rare first edition of a milestone in German literature, the first printed collection of 13th-century German epic poetry. Richly illustrated with a woodcut series unique to this edition, bringing the iconography of the heroic epic to its height. One of only 9 copies known, the only complete copy in private hands. GW 12185.\n\nChancery folio (286 x 208mm). Complete. 284 leaves. Contemporary rubrication: 5 major initials, 3 in interlocking red and blue, with penwork decoration, paragraph marks and capital strokes in red. 230 woodcut illustrations from 156 blocks, 3 full-page. A fine, contemporary binding, probably Westphalian, of blindstamped calf over wooden boards, tools not in Kyriss, Schwenke-Sammlung or Einbanddatenbank (rebacked preserving most of the original backstrip); modern half morocco case. Provenance: Dukes of Salm-Reifferscheidt: Johann VIII (1488-1537, inscription of opening leaf); August Eugen Bernhard (1706-1767, inscription on first leaf) – [sold Christies, 27 November 1991, lot 49, £352,000 to: – H.P. Kraus, catalogue 193, no.9 – Jörn Günther Antiquariat cat. 7, no. 27].\n\nThe Heldenbuch brings together four epics: Ortnit, Wolfdietrich, Rosengarten and Laurin. They interweave love quests with battles between dwarves, giants, and dragons, the protagonists aided by magic rings and armour. With origins extending back to a Merovingian-Frankish tradition, these epics also relate to chivalric romances. They belong to a cycle around Dietrich von Bern, a legendary figure famous throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern age. His relevance to the populace over centuries is attested by his appearance in decoration in both secular and religious settings, in churches and monasteries as well as court frescos. He has only fairly recently been superceded in familiarity by the related Nibelungenlied, thanks to Wagner.\n\nThe Heldenbuch is among the earliest vernacular literature to be printed. It was just preceded in print by Parzival and Juengerer Titurel and appeared before other heroic poems, such as Herzog Ernst. It was reprinted in 1491 and throughout the 16th century, and Laurin enjoyed independent popularity in separate editions. No manuscript is known of this particular redaction, making it the earliest witness to this text and the foundation of all later editions.\n\nThe series of woodcuts is among the best and richest printed illustration of the 15th century. It not only founded an independent iconography for the heroic epic but brought it to its height with this publication (Ott, Kommentarband, p.263). The woodcuts were created specially for this edition and, although stylistically influential, the woodblocks themselves are unique to it; only a single block was re-used a decade later. Seemingly simple, the imagery is sophisticated in its representation of action, perspective and individuality. Dietrich may have been well represented in building decoration, but earlier manuscripts were sparsely illustrated, adding further significance to the visual interpretation of the stories in this woodcut series.\n\nThe Heldenbuch is of exceptional rarity. The only other copy known to have been on the market since 1857 (von der Hagen sale, Berlin, lot 269 ‘Anerkannt der seltenste und merkwuerdigste aller Deutschen Drucke’ ) is the imperfect Otto Schäfer copy. ISTC records 9 copies only, of which at least 3 are imperfect; 5 further locations hold only a single leaf or small fragment. Represented in the Bavarian State Library by a single leaf and in the USA by only an 8-leaf fragment at Harvard; not in the British Library.\n\nThe undated edition was long assigned variously to between 1480 and 1484 but close analysis of the paper stocks by Ziesche and Schnitger (Kommentarband) strongly supports a date of 1479. A number of stop-press corrections are recorded; the present copy appears to show the same states as the Darmstadt, Hessische Landesbibliothek copy. GW and elsewhere records 282 leaves, not taking into account the blank outer bifolium of the table of contents quire, present here and of the same paperstock as the edition. HC 8419; GW 12185; CIBN H-6; BSB-Ink H-39; Schreiber 4196; Kristeller, Die Strassburger Bücher-Illustration 36, Schmidt, Prüss 2; von Arnim, Schäfer 148; Walsh S1-19cf. Cr. Heldenbuch. Nach dem ältesten Druck in Abbildung, ed. J. Heinzle, Kommentarband, Göpppingen: 1987.