Otto Schäfer's Copy –An Exceptional Set in Contemporary Green Calf –Illustrated with 75 Fine Woodcuts

BIBLE. OLD TESTAMENT IN GERMAN. Luther, Martin (1483-1546), translator

Das Alte Testament Deutsch nach urspringlicher Hebreischer warheit. Mit schöner der schwersten [W]örter ausslegung.

Strasbourg: Johann Knobloch, [?January] 1524, July 1524, March 1525


Folio: Three volumes bound as one. 30.5 x 20.8 cm. Vol. I: [6], CLI, [1] lvs. Vol. II: [1], CXC, [1] lvs., Vol. III: LXXXVII lvs. Collation: Vol. I: i-vi, A-Z6, Aa6, Bb8 (Bb8 blank and present.) Vol. II: A-Z6, Aa-Ii6 (Ii6 blank and present). Vol III: A-C6, D4, E-P6

An exceptional set of all three volumes bound together in contemporary green calfskin, ruled and ornately tooled in blind, over wooden boards, with the clasps and catches preserved. Illustrated with two woodcut title page borders and 75 fine woodcuts, including a full-page woodcut of Job. These are very fine copies printed on heavy paper with only a little damp-staining in the gutter of the first and final signature. Provenance: early inscription "J.O.F.H." at head of first title; Otto Schäfer.

A fine set of an early printing of Luther's German Old Testament, profusely illustrated. The first volume of the Old Testament, including the Pentateuch, was first published at Wittenberg by Melchior Lotter, the Younger, for Lucas Cranach and Christian Döring,in mid-1523. The next volume, containing Joshua to Esther appeared sometime in early 1524, and the third volume, Job to Song of Songs, was completed in September or October 1524. At that point Luther put aside the project of translating the rest of the Old Testament and it would not be until 1532 that a fourth and last volume, starting with Isaiah and ending with Malachi, was released. Thus, the first two volumes of this Strasbourg edition came off the press while Luther was still in the process of translating.

While Luther had hesitated to illustrate the Gospels, he gave explicit instructions for illustrating the Old Testament. Lucas Cranach furnished woodcuts for the first Wittenberg edition but subsequent editions drew from a variety of earlier illustrated Bibles, such as Adam Petri's "Altes Testament"(Basel, 1523), which used motifs derived from Hans Schönsperger's 1487 Bible, and a 1524 Nuremberg edition by Friedrich Pepys with woodcuts by Hans Springinklee and Erhard Schön. 

Similarly, the woodcuts in the present Basel edition cannot all be traced back to Cranach's work. In the first volume, they are based on Petri's 1523 Basel edition, including the Creation of Eve, which is after a design by Hans Holbein the Elder. In the second volume, however, the printers adhere more closely to the Wittenberg woodcuts (see, for example, the illustrations of Solomon's Temple in the Book of Kings) but the copyist seems also to have had access to the woodcuts of Erhard Schön, first used at Lyon by Anton Koberger the Younger in 1518 (see the woodcuts in the Book of Joshua.)