[The first two pages only, with footnotes excluded.]

In 1568 the Frankfurt publisher Sigmund Feyerabend undertook a quite remarkable venture. He brought out simultaneously two books, one in Latin and one in German, both illustrated with over one hundred woodcuts by Jost Amman. Amman was the most prolific illustrator of his day, said to have produced in a brief space of time so many drawings that it took a hay wagon to carry them. Complementing each of Amman’s woodcuts in Feyerabend’s books was a set of verses. In the Latin version the poems were by Hartmann Schopper, a respectable but not especially distinguished humanist; in the German, they were written by a famous popular figure, Hans Sachs. Sachs and Amman were a redoubtable combination under any circumstances. In Feyerabend’s venture they were united in what, to the historian, must rank as one of the most interesting publishing ventures of the sixteenth century. Their book casts a fascinating light on German, and indeed early modern European, society and it launched a genre that retained its appeal for over 300 years.

The triumvirate responsible for the creation of the German book represented a fascinating cross-section of mid-sixteenth-century northern European culture. The most famous — thanks to celebrations of his poetry by Goethe and Richard Wagner — was Hans Sachs (1494–1576). A Nuremberg native, he became a master shoemaker after settling down in his native city in his early twenties, following his apprenticeship and his Wanderjahre (traveling years) through Central Europe. Before leaving Nuremberg, he had already developed the interest in singing and poetry that were to set him apart. Singing schools had been founded in a number of German cities in the 1400s — the oldest seems to have been in Mainz — and by the time Sachs returned to Nuremberg he had already graduated from one of these schools, probably in Munich, and earned the rank of Meistersinger, master singer. The Nuremberg school was to become the most famous in Germany, and its star, for the next half century, was Sachs. He wrote over 4,000 songs and poems, and also some 130 stage comedies, not to mention more than a dozen of the plays that were performed during the festival of Carnival. He took his inspiration from classic legends like Tristan and Isolde; from current events; and above all from the newly founded Protestantism that he eagerly embraced. The writings often seem didactic, because Sachs regarded songs and plays as means of educating his fellow-citizens, and this was probably why he was drawn to Feyerabend’s project: a book that described the different elements that made up the society of the time. Given Sachs’s vast output (which amazed Goethe), one imagines that he turned out these 114 verses in no more than a few weeks.

Jost Amman (1539–1591), the son of a professor, was born and raised in Zürich, but moved to Nuremberg in his early twenties. He was much younger than Sachs, but his output was as prolific as the poet’s. Concentrating on woodcuts and engravings, and particularly on book illustration, he produced thousands of finished works. A catalog of 1854 listed, in addition to individual prints, 47 books that Amman illustrated, most with dozens of pictures; a more comprehensive survey, a few years later, listed 78 books, plus hundreds of images. For one Bible alone he produced nearly 200 prints. Many of his original drawings have survived, and although these may well have been incised into the wood blocks by a Formschneider, a specialist carver or etcher, it is likely that Amman completed many of them himself. That would seem to be the most plausible reason that the picture of the Formschneider in Das Ständebuch has the most striking signature (an “IA”) by Amman, who may slyly have intended it as a self-portrait (by contrast, none of the denizens of the Shoemaker’s shop looks anything like Sachs). Amman’s love of detail, and the extraordinary accuracy of his depiction of clothing, objects, and settings made him an ideal illustrator. Not that he left imagination behind. The Draughtsman’s table has wildly elaborate legs, not to mention a fine sword hanging in the background. There are a number of dogs, which seem to be pure decoration; a charming child is riding a toy horse and ringing little bells in front of the shop of the Bell Maker; and there is an adorable little baby in a tub in the Bathhouse Attendant’s workplace.

Amman had a particularly close relationship with Feyerabend, who used him as his principal artist from the 1560s, even though the publisher was over 130 miles away, in Frankfurt, a distance that would have required close to a week of hard travel. Having worked together on a number of projects, including Martin Luther’s Bible translation, published in 1564, it was only natural that the two men should have collaborated on the Ständebuch in 1568.

Sigmund Feyerabend (1528–1590) was one of sixteenth-century Germany’s most distinguished publishers. Born in Heidelberg, he was established as a printer in Frankfurt by his early thirties and produced some of the most splendid volumes, lavishly illustrated, of the age. He published two editions of Luther’s Bible, Luther’s Table Talk, and editions of Latin classics, including Caesar, Livy, Pliny, and Josephus. A shrewd businessman, he also produced travel books, including Donato Giannotti’s famous description of Venice; histories; family histories; a cook book; a collection of stories of courtly love; and other publications that ensured he remained in business — not an easy ambition in the sixteenth century — for over thirty years. At one stage, in the 1560s, he issued more than sixty titles in just seven years. Between 1560 and 1590, his firm produced over thirty Bibles, twenty of them in large folio format. A major presence at what was already the most important book fair in Europe, the Frankfurt book fair, Feyerabend helped establish his adopted city as one of the principal publishing centers in northern Europe. It was a testament to his marketing skills that he saw the potential of the Sachs- Amman collaboration in Das Ständebuch. For this project fitted perfectly into the series of practical and descriptive works that he produced: the travel accounts, the family histories, and so forth. He himself noted, in the book’s prefatory dedication, that he had thought of a survey of trades and crafts as the human equivalent (as “Menschlichen Sachen”) of Pliny’s Natural History, which he had published in a German translation in 1565.

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