VIRGIL SOLIS

1514 - Nuremberg - 1562

Biblia Germanica - The Frankfurt Bible


Biblia | Das ist / | Die gantze Heyli=|ge Schrifft /| Teutsch. | D[octor]. Mart[in]. Lut[her]. | Sampt einem Register / vnd | schoenen Figuren. | M.D. LX.


three volumes in one, with three title pages: fol. [6], A-B4, C2, pp. 1-353, [Prophets title-page], 2-241, [New Testament title-page], 242-410, fol. [5]; Old Testament / The Prophets / New Testament

printed by David Zephelius [David Zöpfel], Johann Raschen [Johannes Rasch], and Sigmund Feyerabend, Frankfurt am Main 1560

with 152 woodcuts mostly by Virgil Solis; other designs contributed by Jost Amman, Johann Melchior Bocksberger, and Tobias Stimmer

colored throughout by the illuminator Philipp Eberhardt; each of the three parts is annotated at the end by Eberhardt and dated December 1623, January 1624, and February 1624 respectively

With the publication of this bible, a consortium of three printers under the leadership of Sigmund Feyerabend tried to break the monopoly held by the Wittenberg printers on Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible. Modelled after Hans Lufft’s complete edition of 1545, the Frankfurt Bible was published in 1560. The lavish scrollwork frames of Virgil Solis’s illustrations mark a notable departure from the more text- and image-oriented Wittenberg tradition; they include many pagan figures such as satyrs, rams, owls, and other fantastic creatures.

In his history of the illustrations to Luther’s translation of the Bible, Schmidt counts the Frankfurt Bible “among the very best within the Protestant heritage” (Philipp Schmidt, Die Illustration der Lutherbibel 1522–1700, Basel 1962, p. 245).

Colored copies of the Bible were usually part of a luxury edition. Examples were often presented by a publisher to influential members of the German aristocracy as proof of his abilities. While quite a few of these copies survive, it is highly unusual to find a regular copy like this one that, more than six decades after it was printed, was given by the proud owner to an illuminator. The otherwise undocumented “Philips Eberhardt Lehman” meticulously colored every woodcut by hand. We also have a certain idea about the timeframe of his work based on annotations. He started on December 29, 1623 and had the Old Testament and Book of Prophets finished by February 7, 1624; the following day he started work on the New Testament.

The survival rate of luxury editions is often far higher than that of ordinary editions since they were always kept in princely libraries. To find a commoner’s copy like this one, that a later owner arranged to have colored, and that has been signed by its illuminator is extremely rare; it provides a fascinating document of the reception history of bibles in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It must be considered an object of the utmost rarity.