Blog post

The workshop of Diebold Lauber in Hagenau

Books with (and without) pictures

A decorated initial with images of flowers and animals, next to the calligraphed text of the manuscript 'Trojanerkrieg' by Konrad von Würzburg
by
Markus Greulich (opens in new window) (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin)

Advertising is not a feature of modern times. Diebold Lauber, a 15th century scribe from the Alsace region, advertised his products in several manuscripts from his own workshop, such as the one below:

Item zu hagenowe vil hübscher buechere geistlich oder weltlich hübsch gemolt bỳ diebolt louber schriber vnd guote latinsche buechere

[At Hagenau there are fine religious and secular books (both beautiful illustrated) by the scribe Diebold Lauber, as well as very good books in latin].

Two pages of a manuscript Flore and Blanscheflur

Who is this man Diebold Lauber? Very little is known about him and his workshop. Based on the surviving manuscripts associated with him, Diebold Lauber was a medieval scribe, who lived in Hagenau (today Haguenau, France). He may also have worked as a scribe for the landvogt (governor) of Hagenau. We don’t know for sure.

However, we are pretty sure that he taught children. Another advertising entry says: dypold lauber schreyber lert die kinder [the scribe Diebold Lauber teaches children]. We know that he provided and delivered manuscripts as a dealer. Evidence suggests that he was even the head of a workshop with almost 80 preserved manuscripts ascribed to it. Such a large number of books, combined with their numerous illustrations, would not have been manageable for a single person so it is assumed that he had different scribes and illustrators working with him. The manuscripts of the Lauber workshop are famous for their almost standardised layout. Beautiful illustrations of vernacular texts are one of their outstanding features.

Two-page manuscript. The left page is the illustration of the four elements and seven planets. At the bottom, it shows fire, water, earth (as a hilly landscape) and air arranged in four horizontal stripes one on top of the other. Above them, the clouds symbolise the sky, and the personifications of the seven planets: Saturn with scythe and sickle, Jupiter with arrows as a symbol of lightning and a drumstick as a symbol of thunder, Mars with helmet, shield and spear, Sol with crown, sceptre and bible, and Venus with a mirror, Mercury with a purse and a bird, and Luna with a crescent moon and torch (from left to right).

The Alsace region was a prosperous region in the late Middle Ages with central cities such as Straßburg, Colmar and Hagenau. In the midst of this cultural boom, the spread of secular and religious literature also grew in importance. Before the invention of printing, books could only be copied by hand. In the late Middle Ages, writing workshops were common in every city. But few have written such beautiful illustrated manuscripts of vernacular texts as Diebold Lauber and his workshop. Representative books of this kind and this size could only be bought by the upper class: noblemen and wealthy city residents.

Two-page manuscript. On the right, colourful illustration of a man standing in a forest and holding a child in his arm. Next to him, there are animals, most distinctively a roe looking in his direction.

The workshop of Diebold Lauber produced manuscripts between 1427 and around 1470. It offered work to different scribes and illustrators. Lauber’s workshop may also have had connections with a former workshop in Straßburg or Colmar that copied manuscripts from 1418–1430 (known as the Alsatian Workshop of 1418). The manuscripts created in this workshop and those created in Diebold Lauber’s workshop show great similarities both in the layout and in the style of the illustrations. It is believed that scribes and / or illustrators may have worked first for one workshop and then for the other. However, as would later become the case in the first printing workshops, the codices in the Lauber workshop were not only copied on demand, but manuscripts were produced in order to have them in stock. The customers could later select and purchase one (or even more) of these manuscripts.

In another advertisement, we get to know the kind of manuscripts which were offered.

Manuscript with text in German: "At Hagenau the scribe Diebold Lauber – who teaches children as well – offers these books in German: ‘Gesta Romanorum’ with illustrations, ‘Parcifal’ with illustrations, ‘Flore and Blanscheflur’ with illustrations (…) ‘Troy’ with illustrations"

Text (fol. 4r):

Item zü hagenow py dypold lauber schreyber lert die kinder sind die buecher tütsch Item gesta romanorum gemault Item parcifal gemault Item floyr und blantscheflur gemault […] Item Troyen gemault …

(transcription by Saurma-Jeltsch 2001, Vol. 1, p. 240f.)

[At Hagenau the scribe Diebold Lauber – who teaches children as well – offers these books in German: ‘Gesta Romanorum’ with illustrations, ‘Parcifal’ with illustrations, ‘Flore and Blanscheflur’ with illustrations (…) ‘Troy’ with illustrations …]

In addition to some religious books (such as saint’s legends), this list includes vernacular romances. Many classics of German courtly literature can be found, such as ‘Tristan’ (by Gottfried von Straßburg), ‘Parzival’ and ‘Willehalm’ (both by Wolfram von Eschenbach), ‘The Trojan War’ (by Konrad von Würzburg) or ‘Wigalois’ (by Wirnt von Gravenberg).

Among the five manuscripts of Lauber’s workshop at Berlin State Library there are two secular texts mentioned in the list above: a courtly romance by Konrad von Würzburg (‘The Trojan War’/’Trojanerkrieg’) and a courtly romance by Konrad Fleck (‘Flore and Blanscheflur’). While the first manuscript was written around 1445, the second manuscript was written around 1465.

The older manuscript features a courtly romance by Konrad von Würzburg (‘The Trojan War’) and a continuation. The 13th century author Konrad von Würzburg (c. 1225–1287) is one of the most important authors of vernacular literature in his time. His patrons were members of the upper class in Basel and Straßburg, the two most important cities of the upper Rhine region of the 13th century. His ‘Trojan War’ is in every case his magnum opus. Even unfinished, it consists of more than 40,000 verses. More than 160 years later, his works were still in great demand. Beside the Berlin manuscript of ‘The Trojan War’ there are two other manuscripts from Lauber’s workshop in that period that have survived the centuries: Würzburg, UB, M.ch.f.24 (c. 1445) and Zeil bei Leutkirch, Fürstlich Waldburg Zeil’sches Gesamtarchiv, ZAMs 37 (c. 1446/47). This suggests that the Lauber workshop not only produced manuscripts that had been commissioned, but also copied manuscripts for stock to have different titles ready for potential buyers.

The Berlin State Library’s copy dates around 1445 - the heyday of Lauber’s workshop - and shows several typical features of the manuscripts produced there. It is unusually large for a vernacular manuscript (41.5 cm × 28.5 cm) and it is written on high quality paper. The text is richly illustrated. It contains an index at the very beginning of the manuscript and offers picture headings. As is often seen in the manuscripts of the Lauber workshop, at the start of the romance text, there is an illustration followed by a page with a big, colourful initial.

Two pages from a manuscript Trojanerkrieg by Konrad von Würzburg. On the left: A person in a crown is laying in bed. On the bed, there is a flaming torch. Next to bed stands a figure also in a crown.
On the right: a decorated initial with images of flowers and animals, next to the calligraphed text of the manuscript 'Trojanerkrieg' by Konrad von Würzburg

The other Lauber manuscript already mentioned –‘Flore and Blanscheflur’ by Konrad Fleck – was written around 1465, during the last decade of the workshop. It is still a manuscript on paper, but of smaller size than the first example (28.5 cm × 21.0 cm). The most striking feature of this manuscript, however, is that it features spaces for but does not contain any illustrations.

Even though this manuscript contains the complete text, it remains unfinished due to the lack of illustrations. There are spaces for the illustrations and explanations to accompany the pictures are written with red ink. Obviously, however, this manuscript did not receive any additional decoration. Though incomplete, it is a good example of how illustrated books were made in the Middle Ages. The text was copied first, and spaces were left on the pages for illustrations and / or for initials, which were only inserted after the text copy had been completed. It can be assumed that the production of handwritten copies came under massive economic pressure due to the emerging book printing. 15th century book printing was still expensive, but was a cheaper alternative to handwritten books. This may be the reason why there are no illustrations in this copy of ‘Flore and Blanscheflur’ from around 1465 – in contrast to the previously mentioned older advertisement that offered: “Flore and Blanscheflur with illustrations”.

In this way, the manuscripts of the Lauber workshop show two things: on the one hand, we can see that there was a high level of craftsmanship in late medieval book production which demonstrates the importance and value placed on vernacular literature in the 15th century. On the other hand, the manuscripts of the Lauber workshop also bear witness to the transition from a culture of manuscripts to a culture of printed books during the 15th century.


This blog is part of the Art of Reading in the Middle Ages project which explores how medieval reading culture evolved and became a fundamental aspect of European culture.

Further Readings:

  • Aderlaß und Seelentrost. Die Überlieferung deutscher Texte im Spiegel Berliner Handschriften und Inkunabeln, hg. von Peter Jörg Becker und Eef Overgaauw (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz. Ausstellungskataloge N.F. 48), Mainz 2003.
  • Aus der Werkstatt Diebold Laubers, hg. von Christoph Fasbender. Unter Mitarb. von Claudia Kanz und Christoph Winterer, Berlin 2012.
  • Saurma-Jeltsch, Lieselotte E.: Spätformen mittelalterlichter Buchherstellung. Bilderhandschriften aus der Werkstatt Diebold Laubers in Hagenau, Wiesbaden 2001, 2 Vol.

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