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Herrad von Landsberg - Abbess and Author: c.1130-1195

Herrad von Landsberg - Abbess and Author: c.1130-1195

Herrad of Landsberg was a 12th century Alsatian nun and abbess of Hohenburg Abbey in the Vosges mountains. She is known as the author of the pictorial Hortus Deliciarum (Garden of Delights), a massive illustrated encyclopedia she began working on in 1165. Its scope is impressive—it covers biblical and theological material, as well as all the known sciences. It describes the history of the world from its creation and explains the meaning of the scriptures. Herrad was a champion of culture and education, and she wanted the book to be used primarily as a teaching text for nuns.

Written in Latin, Hortus Deliciarum also included occasional German explanations of words and phrases to aid in comprehension. The work contained about 340 beautifully presented illustrations, some symbolic of various philosophical concepts, some historical depictions, some representations of biblical stories. There was a self-portrait of the abbess and a portrayal of the sisters at the convent. The manuscript also contained a number of religious songs and poems complete with musical notation.

The manuscript of Hortus Deliciarum passed into the municipal Library of Strasbourg about the time of the French Revolution. There the miniatures were copied in 1818 by Christian Moritz (or Maurice) Engelhardt; the text was copied and published by Straub and Keller, 1879-1899. Thus, although the original perished in the burning of the Library of Strasbourg during the siege of 1870 in the Franco-Prussian War, we can still form an estimate of the artistic and literary value of Herrad's work.

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