Illuminated Incunabula in the Austrian National Library (ca. 1475-1500). Central European Schools

Serial Book-Painting from Augsburg, Leipzig, and Nuremberg

funded by the FWF: P29795-G21
01. 12. 2016 - 31. 05. 2020

Project management:
O. Univ.-Prof. Michael Viktor Schwarz
Dr Andreas Fingernagel (Austrian National Library)

Dr Caroline Zöhl (
Dr Armand Tif (


The ÖNB houses one of the most important collections of incunabula. Approximately 20% of these holdings are decorated with medieval book painting. The project pursues the first comprehensive art-historical investigation of illuminated incunabula between 1475 and 1500 in a representative collection. Continuing the catalogue series of illuminated manuscripts and incunabula in the Austrian National Library (ÖNB) and based on the findings of a project on earlier incunabula (1450-75), the research focuses on the new tendencies of mass production in the major German centres of the book trade for the area of present day Austria: Augsburg, Nuremberg and Leipzig. It draws on a broad base of comparative material, which comes from extensive surveys of almost all monastic collections in Austria as well as from the cataloguing of library holdings in Graz and Linz, all based in the Pächt-Archiv.

It is well known that book printing redefined book culture, leading to an enormous increase in book production and the emergence of super-regional book markets. Illumination developed within the framework of networks of printers, publishers, book dealers, and illuminators in an environment shaped by universitary and early humanistic circles and monastic connections. By means of art- historical analysis, the project will show: firstly, how these networks emerged in different ways in the three cities; and, secondly, how these developments impacted on the book culture of the import region (present-day Austria).

The project's aim is to produce an art-historical catalogue of individual works accompanied by more general "introductions", thus analysing and contextualizing the incunabula of the ÖNB in a manner that accounts for their specific medial characteristics. An appropriate cataloguing scheme has already been developed in a project on early illuminated incunabula and would be further adapted for this period. In contrast to predominantly bibliographical incunabula catalogues, art-historical catalogues offer a critical stylistic approach to questions of localization and dating - areas in which research on incunabula promises extensive new findings. Along with its relevance for art history, the project promises insights into social and economic aspects of early publishing and the book trade, which will be significant for various disciplines.

Cooperation with the ÖNB, the ÖAW and the Manuscript Center in Leipzig and with other research projects in the Pächt-Archiv offers an ideal institutional environment for the project which will also profit from increasingly lively research on Central European illumination and growing interest in the role of incunabula. In September 2019 a conference will contemplate "The role of artists in outstanding book projects and experiments around 1500"


Armand Tif: Konrad Blochinger und der Kunsttransfer über die universitären Netzwerke zwischen Basel, Erfurt und Leipzig um 1500, in: Unter Druck. Mitteleuropäische Buchmalerei im 15. Jahrhundert, hg. von Jeffrey F. Hamburger / Maria Theisen, Petersberg 2018, S. 224-245

Catalogue by Caroline Zöhl and Armand Tif in preparation