Close XYL-25 Johannes Metensis: Turris sapientiae

[Germany, c.1475]. Woodcut, with Latin inscriptions.

 Schr. 1858c. The Tower of Wisdom is constructed of a basement supported by 4 buttresses, a first floor with 5 windows and a double door reached by a staircase of 7 steps, above which rises the keep of a castle constructed with 12 courses of 10 stones inscribed with the names of religious virtues and topped by battlements. The reader is guided upwards in a process of edification marked by 22 letters of the alphabet from A to Y. The foundation ‘Humilitas’ (A) supports 4 bases (B) on which rest the columns of the 4 cardinal virtues (C) with their 4 capitals (D), each with their inscriptions. The 7 steps (E) inscribed with the names of 7 acts of penitence lead upwards to the doors of the tower, whose breadth (F) is love and whose height (G) is perseverance in what is good. The doors (H) are inscribed ‘Obedien(c)ia’ and ‘Paciencia’, the windows (J) with the names of 4 religious qualities. The 12 letters from K rising to X, each inscribed against a row of stones on the tower, signify a sequence of virtues from ‘Amor’ through to ‘fides’. The 12 courses of stonework allow a tabular presentation of the 12 virtues and their 9 respective sub-virtues. The 6 battlements (‘propugnacula’) at the top (Y) are stated to stand for innocence, purity, fear of God, chastity, restraint, and virginity. Incipit: ‘Turris sapiencie legatur ab inferiori asce(n)de[ndo] p(er) seriem l(itte)raru(m) alphabeti | A. Fundamentu(m) turris sapiencie e(st) humilitas que es[t] mater virtutum | .B. bases dilige(n)cia requies veritas modus . . .’ The Turris sapientiae, which is known from an extensive manuscript tradition as well as three xylographic editions, is most commonly found as part of the Speculum theologie, a set of nine or more full-page diagrams with complex inscriptions, where it is sometimes accompanied by an additional explanatory text, and which is attributed in five manuscripts to the Franciscan Master Johannes Metensis (of Metz?), probably to be identified with the Paris preacher of that name attested in 1273; see F. Saxl, ‘A Spiritual Encyclopaedia of the Later Middle Ages’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 5 (1942), 82–134, at 110–11; L. F. Sandler, The Psalter of Robert of Lisle in the British Library, 2nd rev. edn (London, 1999), 23–7 with n. 52, 107–15; Sandler, ‘John of Metz, The Tower of Wisdom’, in The Medieval Craft of Memory. An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, ed. M. Carruthers and J. M. Ziolkowski (Philadelphia, Pa., 2002), 215–25. Four later manuscripts attribute the work to the Italian Dominican Bonacursus de Gloria, Archbishop of Tyre (1272–91). The two attributions, both to little-known but positively attested figures in the right period, seem of equal merit and must both be taken seriously. For Johannes Metensis see Schneyer, Repertorium, III 578; for Bonacursus see H. E. Mayer, ‘Das Pontifikale von Tyrus und die Krönung der lateinischen Könige von Jerusalem’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 21 (1967), 141–232, at 149–50. The text of the Turris sapientiae is printed by Weigel–Zestermann I 186–8; M. Castelberg, Wissen und Weisheit: Die spätmittelalterliche Tafelsammlung Washington D.C., Library of Congress, Rosenwald Collection, MS 4, typescript dissertation, Fribourg (Switzerland) 2003, 61–4 (inscriptions), 442–3 (explanatory text). The xylographic version, which is known in three different editions, is distinctive only in the total omission of personified figures, in the depiction of the double doors and four shuttered windows on the first floor of the tower, and in the omission of the five guards (‘custodes’, with the letter Z) who in the manuscripts of the Turris sapientiae usually populate the uppermost level of the tower. For a manuscript version very close to the xylographic editions, see that sold by Hoepli in Zurich in 1937, illustrated by M. Evans, ‘The Geometry of the Mind’, Architecture Association Quarterly, 12 no. 4 (1984), 32–55, at 41. The present edition is attested in four copies, the others in Jena ULB, London BL (IC 30), and Nuremberg GermNM, whereas the impressions preserved in Berlin Kupferstichkab, Heidelberg UB, Leipzig UB, Munich BSB, a second copy in Nuremberg GermNM, and Tübingen UB (ill. Blockbücher des Mittelalters, 173), for which see Schreiber, Handbuch, IV 42 (nos 1858a–b), are clearly printed from a different block or blocks.

ills. E. Reicke, Lehrer und Unterrichtswesen in der deutschen Vergangenheit, Monographien zur deutschen Kulturgeschichte, 9 (Leipzig, 1901), ill. 21 (Nuremberg copy); Sotheby II, pl. lxxxvii (London BL/Libri copy); Bodleian Filmstrip Roll 245, no. 21.

refs. Pr 30; BMC I 11; Schreiber, Handbuch, IV 42 (no. 1858c); Blockbücher des Mittelalters, 173–4; Griese (in preparation); Sheppard no. 11.

Copy Chancery sheet. 399 × 245 mm (woodcut 387 × 245 mm). Chain-lines horizontal. Watermark: Bull’s head, belonging to the group PiccO XV 381–390 (1475–89), closest to (but distinct from) XV 387 (1475–77). Printed in brown ink by rubbing on one side of the paper. Some colouring in yellow, green, red, and brown. A little damage at the bottom, leading to the loss of a few letters of text.

Binding: Half dark blue morocco over cloth-covered pasteboards, made for the Bodleian. 400 × 261 × 4 mm. Bound together with H-098, with which this item does not share a common provenance.

Provenance: Purchased by the Bodleian in 1853 for £6. 6. 0; see Books Purchased (1853), 71. A cutting, probably from a Sotheby’s sale catalogue from the years 1848–53, is pasted inside the front cover of the binding and describes the leaf as ‘Zilographicum. Propugnacula sive Turris sapiencie’. See Macray 464 note 1.

shelfmark: Auct. M 3.16(1).