The 16th Century Graphic Art Collection of the Wrocław's patrician Jacob Rehdiger

Published on: 28 / 03 / 2011

Authors of this entry:
  • dr Aleksandra Lipińska

The collection in the Wrocław's University Library, the one which had followed the first libraries opened to the public in our town and the rich Silesian collections and monasterial libraries, is an inexhaustible source of interesting research topics. The losses caused by war and dispersal within the years after the war contributed to many knowledge gaps in the point of that collection. The foregoing article, dedicated to the collection of Netherlandish Graphic Art owned by the Wrocław's patrician Jacob Rehdiger, which in excerpt is currently housed in the Old Prints' Department of the Wrocław's University Library, shall attempt to fill one of these gaps.

Jacob Rehdiger (1543-1589) was the youngest of twelve children of Nicolaus I Rehdiger and of his second wife Anna Morenberg von Schönborn (1500-1573). He was born on June 24, 1543 in Wrocław. Like his brothers, he must have attended one renowned Lutheran grammar-schools of Wrocław. Although no sources to confirm that fact have been discovered so far, we shall assume he had attended the grammar-school of St. Elisabeth, which was attended by his brothers as well. According to the Nicolaus I's (d. 1553) last will his wealth was supposed to be divided as soon as Jacob attained his majority. Before that Jacob, like most of his brothers, had devoted himself to studying: in 1562 he immatriculated at the Wittenberg University.

No sooner the family wealth had been divided (1564), than Jacob entered the family company and traveled with his brother to Antwerp where he had an opportunity to discover the mystery of the merchant's profession in leadership of the Rehdigers' main broker – Maarten Schuif. In 1566 Jacob was summoned back to Wrocław. The reason mentioned in sources would have been lung disease, presumably caused by climate in Antwerp. Another reason of Jacob Rehdiger's return to Wrocław might have been the dangerous situation of politics in the Netherlands. Still in 1566 Jacob retired from the family company and received from his brother Nicolaus II – at that time the company's leader – landed properties in Wangern (Węgry), Pollogwitz (Polakowice) and in Schliesa (Ślęszew). On February 3, 1567 he married Anna von Reichel (1547-1611), with whom he settled in his landed properties. He died in 1589.

So far 9 volumes marked with provenance tokens of Jacob Rehdiger's Library have been found, among two albums illustrated with Netherlandish etchings seem particularly interesting. One of them is the Thesaurus veteris testamenti – first edition of the monumental work by Gerard de Jode which had appeared in 1579 in Antwerp. The mentioned edition of Thesaurus can be regarded as a trial version preserved in a few copies, e. g. in Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam and in Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel. In 1585 appeared another copy of Thesaurus, supplied in illustrations of New Testament scenes. The uniqueness of de Jode's issues appears in fact that the entrepreneur collected engravings by the large galaxy of contemporary Netherlandish artists in one volume. He did it as Antwerp enjoyed the summit of its power as a European milieu of graphic art, soon before the great exodus which contributed to the development of its rivalries in the Northern Netherlands. De Jode presents thirty graphic cycles, beginning with the History of Kain and Abel by Michael Coxie, engraved by Johannes Sadeler I (1576), via History of Noah by Hans Bol, History of Jacob by Maarten de Vos, Twelve Patriarchs by Crispijn van den Broek, engraved by Johannes Sadeler I etc., finishing with the History of Juda Macchabeus by Gerard van Groeningen, elaborated in burin by Hans Wierix. Apart from the mentioned artists the cartouches in the title pages of separate editions contain the names of Jan Sneellinckx, Frans Menton, Maarten de Cleef, Adriaen de Weerdt, Ambrosius Franken, Maarten Heemskerk, Peter van den Borcht, Egidius Quinet, Hans Collaert or Hans Vredemann de Vries. Those title pages opening separates series diserve our attention, since they inform a lot on the character of the issueand on its recipients. De Jode, beside the title and amount of engravings forming the cycle, entered the inventor's name as well. The Treasury of Old Testament is not the same as the Bible in pictures, it's rather an exclusive edition for connoisseurs who appreciated the separate artists.

Even more interesting seems to appear the second album from the Rehdiger's collection. It comprises fifteen units: graphic series and single engravings. It begins with two genealogical series. The first, by Michael Vosmar, is illustrated with 36 portraits of the Dukes of Holand, Zeland and Friesland, engraved on the base of drawings by Willem Thibaut who had based on paintings from the Carmelite Convent of Haarlem. The work was printed in 1578 by Christopher Plantin for Philip Galle. The second genealogical series is the retinue of counts of Flanders by Cornelis Martinus van Zeeland, illustrated with 40 engravings designed and edited by Pieter Baltens. The cycle is closed by an engraving singed with a wrong signature, but in fact belonging to the issue previously discussed, which depicts the Allegory of Transitoriness of the Earthly Authority which illustrates the verse by Charles de Navieres located underneath.

The next pressmark contains the cycle of Seven Days of Creation after Adriaen de Weerdt, engraved by Dirk Voolkertszoon Coornhert and supplied with Latin and Dutch distichs of his authorship, which was by Coornhert quite unique. The Rehdigers album contains also the series of Christ and Apostles engraved by Lambert Zutman (Suavius), after the drawings by Lambert Lombard and scenes of Passion edited by Johann Sadeler I. Apart from Old and New Testament scenes did the repertoire certainly cover allegories. In the Wrocław's collection there were three series by the trinity of executors: Jan Sneellinckx (project), Hans Collaert (engraver) and Gerard de Jode (editor). The three cycles comprised: Seven Cardinal Sins, Seven Planets, Seven Liberal Arts, as well as series edited by Philipp Galle: Virtues and Vices and Senses (designed by Hendrik Goltzius).

The education of every member of intellectual elite certainly covered the knowledge on the ancient history. Therefor the cycle of Portraits of Roman Emperors after Hans Vredemann de Vries, which also belongs to the collection here discussed, might have supplied with pictures the edition of the History of the Roman Empire by Titus Livius and the Lives of Roman Emperors by Gaius Tranquillus Svetonius – volumes which were also housed in Jacob Rehdiger's Library. The mythological plot appears on the contrary, in the series containing figures from the Judgement of Paris.

The history of Jacob Rehdiger's Library, reconstructed on the basis of 9 volumes preserved to the present days, demonstrate how complicated the fate of Silesian collections was. In the work by Caspar Cunradus entitled Silesia Togata an unknown reader (probably from the 18th century) left a short but interesting note by Jacob Rehdiger's biography: “Pretisissimae aenitissimae Bibliotheca Collector que post fata eius ad Jesinsiam familiam emptionisjure puenit. Basing on the mentioned note it has been assumed that Jacob Rehdiger's Library was purchased by a member of the Family Jessinsky von Gross-Jessen. However the preserved copies have no provenance tokens indicating that Rehdiger's volumes became property of the family which settled in Silesia.

The next site of exposure for the Jacob Rehdiger's collection of books, according to Oskar Pusch, would be the library of the Cistercian Monastery of Henryków. Actually one of the volumes signed with the Rehdiger's superexlibris (graphic block with a.o. Epigrammas by Janus Dousy) is also supplied with the pressmark of the Henryków Library (Liber B. V. M. in Heinrichau. Bibliotheca inscripty No 1729). However the Rehdiger's collection seems to have been dispersed, since some of the volumes bear the seal of Bernardina – the former library by St. Bernardine's Church in Wrocław, which like other monasterial libraries, were appropriated by the Wrocław's Hauptbibliothek, renamed in 1865 for Stadtbibliothek. Other volumes bear the seal of Rehdigerana and of the Library by the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. The most complicated was the history of the mentioned Old Testament Thesaurus, whose first owner was probably a certain Johann Christian Köglender (whose inscription, and the date 1579 can be seen at the frontispiece), its second owner was Jacob Rehdiger (who had the volume bound), the third owner was the rector and librarian of Elisabethaneum – Gottlob Kranz (1660-1733), the fourth owner was the library by Magdaleneum and the one before last – the Wrocław's City Library and its follower – the University Library.

Both albums of Netherlandish graphic art, collected by Jacob Rehdiger shall be regarded as the oldest known example of the 16th century collections of that sort in Wrocław and (basing on my knowledge), also in Poland, as well as one of the few recorded in Europe. The second collection of engravings in Wrocław, according to the age, was formed in the 17th century by an architect Albrecht von Säbisch (1610-1688) and then transferred by his testament to St. Elisabeth's Library. 104 volumes contain several thousands of German, French, Italian and Dutch graphics, among which engravings by the same authors whose works wer encountered in the Jacob Rehdiger's collection, i.e. by Hans Vredemann de Vries, Peter Baltens, Crispijn van den Broek, Hendrik Goltzius, Gerard de Jode, Philipp Galle et al. Both collections – like the collection of engravings formed in the 17th and 18th century by Karel Žerotin (1564-1636), Franz Pautschner, Ernst Benjamin von Loewenstaedt (d. 1729) – before they were transferred to the Wrocław's University Library, had been changing their owners several times. Finally we shall emphasize once more that presently the Jacob Rehdiger's inconspicuous collection of Netherlandish graphic art is the oldest known in Poland and one of the few collections of that sort known in Europe. I presume that at least for that reason it deserves our attention.

This text has been written, basing on the Master's thesis written on leadership of Prof. PhD Stefan Kiedroń in the Faculty of Dutch Philology at the University of Wrocław (2002).

Project co-financed by Ministry of Labour and Social Policy under Government Project – Civic Benefit Fund.
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