The epic poem celebrates the exploits and heroic deeds of Maximilian I (1459-1519), Holy Roman Emperor and head of the house of Habsburgs.
Called Theuerdank (meaning ‘Noble Mind’) in the book, he overcomes numerous dangers to win the heart of Queen Ernreich, an allegory for his wife Mary of Burgundy who died in a horse accident only a few years into their marriage.
Maximilian appointed Johann Schönsperger from Augsburg as his imperial court printer and carefully controlled the printing and typography. The 118 woodcuts, regarded as among the finest in German Renaissance book illustration, were designed by at least seven well-known woodcut artists of the time including Hans Burgkmair, Hans Schäufelein and Leonhard Beck. The compilation of the cuts began in 1511 and took until 1517 to complete.
As a memorial to himself and his dynasty, Maximilian did not intend the book to be sold, and when he died in 1519, his successor found six chests filled with untouched copies. Around 40 copies of the first edition were printed on vellum and only a few were coloured, such as the example above.
Dr Jörn Günther Rare Books is offering it for €850,000 at the Stuttgart Rare Book Fair, which takes place with a printed joint fair catalogue and in digital format from January 29-February 1.