Because of its many illustrations, Bernhard von Breydenbach’s account of his travels through the Holy Land, published in 1486, drove the previously bestselling travel book written by Hans Tucher from the market. The success of Breydenbach’s book was further increased by its publication first in a Latin version, four months later in a German version, and two years later also in a Dutch edition. In order to document his journey, Breydenbach took an artist with him to record his impressions. The mention of the artist’s name, Erhard Reuwich, in the introduction to the first edition of the book is itself a novelty in the history of printing. As the colophon and the printer’s device indicate, Reuwich came from Utrecht and both illustrated and printed the work. Reuwich’s illustrations are characterized by the virtuosity with which he translated his drawings into the printed medium. In particular, the new realism of his large-format fold-out depictions of cities is remarkable. The largest such illustration was printed using four wooden blocks, each the size of a paper sheet, and shows a bird’s eye view of the picturesque southern approach to Venice from the Grand Canal and the islands of the lagoon. It is possible to identify the standpoint of the observer as having been the church tower of San Giorgio Maggiore on the island of the same name. The Venetian architecture is shown almost true to life, allowing a ready recognition of the more prominent buildings, some of which, however, Reuwich has depicted in a state somewhat older than that which he himself can have seen. As recent research suggests, Reuwich’s concept for illustrating the travel book was profoundly influenced by his encounter with Venice and its art. It seems, indeed, that his role was largely that of collecting suitable pieces of art at each station of the voyage, to be used later to illustrate the book resulting from Breydenbach’s travels. For the depiction of Venice, he probably used a drawing by the Venetian artist Jacopo Bellini (circa 1400–1470 or 1471), adapting it according to his own observations. As other drawings by this artist from between 1435 and 1440 reveal, Bellini tended at his time to depict the still quite Gothic architecture of Venice with a modern Renaissance touch. Thus, Reuwich’s illustration of Venice may be seen as having an exemplary documentary quality for the history of Venetian architecture. The copy of Breydenbach’s book shown here is the German version of the work, translated by Martin Roet. It formerly was owned by Hartmann Schedel (1440–1514), who imitated some of Reuwich’s woodcuts in his Nuremberg Chronicle.
Illustrator: Reuwich, Erhard, active 1483-1486
Translator: Roet, Martin, died 1538
Type Designer: Schöffer, Peter, approximately 1425-approximately 1502
Note: BSB shelfmark: 2 Inc.c.a. 1727 | This description of the work was written by Marianne Reuter of the Bavarian State Library.
Place: Middle East and North Africa; Israel
Institution: Bavarian State Library
Physical description: 328 pages : illustrations ; 22.01 x 31.24 centimeters