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The Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony
An Opulent Epinal Print from Everyday Life of the Middle Ages
University Library Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 164, Beginning of the 14th century, Harz (Germany)



Further Pictures


„Mirror of the Saxons“: The most important German  Law  Book

No other book has shaped the history of German law in such a way as the Mirror of Saxony. After centuries of following a solely verbal tradition of law, the Mirror of Saxony represents the first written recording of everyday life and of the approved legal customary laws which applied only to a certain geographical region (in this case Saxony).
Eike von Repgow wrote and compiled this work between 1220 and 1235 in the language of his homeland in lower-Germany, thereby creating not only the most important and unequalled German book of law, but also the first work of prose in the German language.
The title “Mirror” was chosen by the author according to medieval speculum literature. Like a mirror, this textbook represented a reflection of Christian world order and in the same manner Eikes “Mirror” also provided the Saxons with a view of “justice and injustice”.

The Mirror of Saxony - Contents

The prologue contains an incantation by the author of the divine origin of justice and calls upon all people not to be lead astray from the law.
The following common law regulates all questions about laws concerning village and neighbor, family and inheritance rights, constitutional law; including both criminal and court as well as procedural law.
The second main part of this book summarizes the norms of feudal rights, which covers the relationship between the feudal lords and their vassals. Thereby the Saxon Mirror provides binding guidelines for all legal questions concerning cohabitation of peoples from different social groups.

The Earliest Mirror of Saxony Manuscript

The Heidelberg manuscript is not dated, however, based on the form of the text, the image script and especially the coat of arms from the northeastern region of Harz, its’ date of origin can be placed between 1295 and 1304. Originally the manuscript probably consisted of 92 pages, from which only a third now remain. The entire first book of common law is missing as well as parts of the second and third book and parts concerning feudal rights. Probably, these sides were excluded because they were so damaged, as can be seen in the condition of Image 19v and 20v.  The condition of preservation of the text and images differs and it is evident that these damages caused by pollution, abrasions and finger-marks all indicate the frequent and heavy use of the Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony.

The Text: A Close Relationship to Eike von Repgows’ Original Version

Due to its similarity to the original text of Eike von Repgow, the Mirror of Saxony is afforded a special importance. Upon its emergence at the turn of the 14th century, it shared a close temporal as well as spatial bond to the lost original manuscript, whose own emergence is likewise assumed to be only a few decades earlier in the region of Harz. The style of the illustrations provides a connecting link and indicates that most likely they were directly derived from the original.

Text and Images – a one-time collective composition

The Heidelberg manuscript is characterized by a great harmony between text and images. This allows certain conclusions to be drawn about the illustrator, who possessed the ability to capture the quintessence of the legal text and interpret it in his own way, by exposing particular figurative aspects.
 In the rows of images running side by side the text, the written law is translated into a sequence of images – the imagery scenes therefore emerge out of the text. Through the complexity of the text, different temporal levels are described.
The content of law contained in this manuscript is portrayed through the people and their attire, hand gestures and body posture, and symbols and subject matter of everyday life in such a way that the figures themselves become animated through their lively expression.
The unbeknownst illustrator not only uses traditional symbols and gestures but also creates new forms. His main medium of expression in the scenes of justice is gestures of the hand, explaining their over-enlarged depiction in his drawings. This feature is not so strongly apparent in later manuscripts. Likewise noticeable in the Heidelberg manuscript is the frequent drawing of figures with many arms, which was often and necessarily used in order to portray the partially complicated procedures of feudal law.

The Fugger, the Palatina and Rome

Little is known about the whereabouts of the manuscript since its time of origin up until the second half of the 16th century. It appeared for the first time in accounts from Heidelberg towards the end of the 16th century.
At this time in Heidelberg a book collection which became internationally known as the “Bibliotheca Palatina” resulted out of the creation of a university in 1386 and the passion for books of the prince elector’s courts.
The Ausburg patrician Ulrich Fugger, who came from a branch of the well-known mercantile and banker family, had the controlling interest in this book collections’ brilliant development.
Due to his conversion to the Protestant faith, his considerable debts caused not in least part to his generous book purchases and his lack of mercantile interest, Ulrich found himself completely at odds with his family. He found his refuge in Heidelberg with Prince Friedrich III. from Pfalz.  In 1567 his library was brought from Augsburg to Heidelberg and upon his death in 1584 in accordance with his will it finally became an integral part of the Biblioteca Palatina. One citation from the Fugger Library in 1571 calls it:  „ein alt tuff Perment geschrieben buchlin von Lehenrechten und andern, mit altfranckischen figuren.“

In the confusion of war

 During the 30-year war, Johann t’Serclaes von Tilly captured Heidelberg and in so doing, the Bibliotheca Palatina along with our codex  was presented by the Bavarian Duke, Maximilian to Pope Gregor XV and thus brought to Rome in 1623 by the Roman emissary Leo Alacci. The Mirror of Saxony was probably protected up until this time by only a simple wooden-cover binding which, due to weight considerations was later replaced by a lighter flexible parchment binding. The manuscript remained a part of the Vatican library in Rome until 1816, at which time the Pope gave it back to the Bibliotheca Palatina in Heidelberg along with other German manuscripts. Since this time the codex is in safekeeping at the Heidelberg University Library.

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