Category Archives: Germany

The wrong trousers? Common folk in striped clothes as readers of early modern recipes.

By Tillmann Taape

 When trying to make historical sense of printed medical recipe collections, one tricky but important question always recurs: who did the author and/or publisher think would be likely to read and benefit from their books? In my own research, which focuses on the works of the surgeon-apothecary Hieronymus Brunschwig (introduced here and here), this question is particularly intriguing because these books were among the first medical books to be printed in German.

Of course, like many authors of the time, Brunschwig gives us some clues in the text of his works. He often addresses his instructions, especially medical recipes, to the ‘common man’ or the ‘layman’ who might not be able to afford certain remedies, or who might simply live too far away from the next larger town with a pharmacy shop. In addition to these textual hints, I want to take a different approach to the question of readers by making use of the numerous woodcuts illustrating Brunschwig’s works. Commissioned from an unknown artist by Brunschwig’s publisher, Johann Grüninger, these images are a striking element of the books.

Title illustration from Brusnchwig's  Small book of distillation. © Wellcome Images
Title illustration from Brunschwig’s Small book of distillation (1500). © Wellcome Images

One thing which immediately strikes the eye when looking at these images is the prevalence of people dressed in striped clothes. Take, for example, the title page of Brunschwig’s Small book of distillation, published in 1500. We see a group of people busily harvesting herbs and stoking furnaces to distill medicinal waters, and both of the men are dressed in conspicuously striped doublets and trousers. In fact, throughout Brunschwig’s works most of the people doing any kind of manual work are shown wearing stripes, for example the person pounding ingredients in an apothecary’s mortar shown below. Surely, I thought, it must be significant that the majority of medicine-makers – Brunschwig’s ‘common men’ – are depicted in this manner.

An apothecary or apprentice mixing medicine, from Brunschwig's Cirurgia (1497). © Wellcome Images
An apothecary or apprentice mixing medicine, from Brunschwig’s Cirurgia (1497). © Wellcome Images

As it turns out, striped clothing had fairly wide-ranging connotations in the early-modern German lands. The fashion of tight-fitting, striped trousers had been brought to Germany from the Northern Italian courts by the new imperial infantry, the so-called lansquenets, towards the end of the fifteenth century. The striped fashion was particularly popular among the middling sort: citizens of free imperial towns, artisans, and even wealthy farmers and landowners. They constituted a growing and increasingly self-aware middle layer of society, sandwiched between poorer day-labourers who did not own any property, and the wealthy urban patriciate or landed gentry.

In the literature of the time, notably social satire in the tradition of Sebastian Brant’s famous Ship of Fools (1497), this newly significant social group came to be represented by the figure of the ‘striped layman.’ His striped clothing marked him out as being ‘half and half’ or in-between – in terms of wealth, social status, and most importantly, education. Literate in the vernacular but not in Latin, the half-educated ‘striped layman’ was to become a central figure in the visual rhetoric of Protestant pamphlets during the Reformation. Martin Luther wrote for an audience of precisely this kind of person: although not a Latinate scholar of theology, the striped layman sought salvation in his own reading of Scripture in the vernacular, without learned clergy as an intermediate. [1]

A teacher lecturing students, from Brunschwig's Cirurgia (1497). © Wellcome Images
A teacher lecturing students, from Brunschwig’s Cirurgia (1497). © Wellcome Images

Brunschwig’s works depict a similarly confident self-educated striped layman in the context of medicine. This is nicely summed up in the large woodcut above, which appears in all of Brunschwig’s works. The teacher, identified by his fur-lined scholar’s robe and seated at a lectern, is lecturing from a large book. It is angled towards him, so that only he can see its contents, demonstrating the scholar’s authority over text-based learned medicine. Among his students, we see a young man dressed in stripes, and while his peers listen demurely with hat in hand, this striped chap is confidently gesticulating as if arguing a point of his own. What is more, he is holding a rolled-up piece of paper in one hand, perhaps a sheet of notes or even a medical recipe. While this striped layman does not command large tomes of medical learning, the picture suggests that he is literate and familiar with some of medicine’s written forms. He even appears capable of holding his own in a discussion with a scholar.

The figure of the striped layman, with its connotations of middling status and education, is thus a very plausible visual cognate to Brunschwig’s readership of middling ‘common men.’ As if to vindicate this choice of intended audience and its visual representation, the physician Lorenz Fries, from the neighbouring town of Colmar, addressed his Mirror of Medicine (1518) specifically to ‘striped laypeople’ who want to learn about medicine – and published it with Grüninger in Strasbourg.

[1] On the visual metaphor of the striped, see Schmid Blumer, Verena. Ikonographie und Sprachbild: Zur reformatorischen Flugschrift “Der gestryfft Schwitzer Baur”. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2004.

Of recipes, collectors, compilers and contributors

By Karin Zimmermann

In my recent First Monday Library Chat interview, I described the wonderful collections within the Bibliotheca Palatina at the Heidelberg University Library. As you might recall, one third of the German manuscripts within the Bibliotheca Palatina are recipe books. In fact, many of the Electors Palatine – the rulers of the Palatinate – were especially interested in medical prescriptions. They were eager to get information wherever they could and so they even collected single recipes. This kind of medical ‘small texts’ are revealing of social networks and the relationships which existed between the compilers and collectors. With a few exceptions the single recipes were handed down anonymously and so we know almost nothing about the authors of these small texts. However, in the larger collections, the names of the contributors are often mentioned either in the title of a whole manuscript or in the heading of a recipe.

The cited recipe contributors consist of not only professional physicians and surgeons but also of a large group of ‘layman or amateur doctors’. Some of the Electors Palatine were particularly known as collectors and compilers of medical literature. For example, over his life time, Louis V (reigned: 1508-1544) compiled and wrote in his own hand, a ‘Book of Medicine’ which spans 13 volumes (c. 3200 leaves of parchment) (Cod. Pal. germ. 244, 261-272)

Fig.1_HUL_Pal.germ.261.f.40r Fig. 1: Recipes from one of the volumes of Louis V ‘Book of Medicine’ for the medical and magic use of carrots.

In order to save space, Louis V developed a system of scribal abbreviation. Often, a single recipe was supplied by various persons to him, that means up to ten people or even more gave him the same recipe. The mentioned ‘layman doctors’ are mostly members of the court, like a valet, a court organist, a scribe at the chancellery, a secretary or a bailiff. The example (Fig. 2) shows you the following abbreviations (you find the real name in parenthesis): P (Elector Palatine), C bar (Christoffel Federlein, barber of Louis), Hensell (Hensel von Schifferstadt, official), Jilge (Walter Gilg, barber), Cal (Wilhelm Kal, a court physician), Hurlewegin (Regina Hurleweg, a female physician), Has (Heinrich Has, court counsellor), Hanaw (Count Philipp III or IV of Hanau-Lichtenberg).

Fig.2_HUL_Pal.germ.262.f.152vFig. 2: A recipe against lice (Fur die leus) with the abbreviated names of eight contributors.

One of Louis V’s successors, Elector Palatine Louis VI (reigned: 1576–1583), was also an enthusiastic collector and compiler of recipes and medical texts. The Bibliotheca Palatina includes around 70 medical manuscripts connected to Louis VI. While many of the manuscripts were created for Louis VI by scribes, some of them include entries written in his own hand. Louis VI often rearranged the same recipes into different groups depending on what kind of collection he wanted to create. So we find collections where the recipes are ordered by indication, by different kinds of confection or even by the time when the main ingredient of the recipe can be harvested or the month when the medication should be used.

Fig.3_HUL_Pal.germ.192.f.2rFig. 3: The ‘Kunst-Buch’ (Book of arts) of Louis VI, his most elaborate collection, written down on more than 300 folios of parchment it contains more than 2.100 recipes and prescriptions.

When we begin to look at the kinds of diseases treated, we find that they reflect contemporary life at court. The eating habits, the high consumption particularly of wine and meat was not exactly conducive to health. So it is no surprise that there are many prescriptions for gout. Consequences of malnutrition and sexual debauchery can certainly to be seen in the recipes for haemorrhoids and genital warts. Much space is given to the field of gynaecology with recipes for the elimination of menstrual disorders, on obstetrics, or to regain lost fertility (for both men and women). Veterinary medicine is also well represented, though mainly in the area of ‘Roßarzneien’ (horse medicine). A phenomenon which may be explained by the preference for keeping horses at the court. Between the medical recipes there are often interspersed some cosmetic recipes or recipes for ‘beauty treatment’ like dying hair or brightening teeth. You can also learn something about disinfestations of fleas, lice, mice and so on; how to dye clothes and how to remove stains and other household recipes. In these cases the term ‘recipe’ is not exclusively based on the medical use. We might conclude by mentioning the cookbooks in the collection. It is interesting to note that the cooking recipes and the medical recipes are not often mixed together. Finally, of course, there is no lack of ‘varia et curiosa’. There are numerous magic and fun recipes, which are present in surprisingly large numbers and usually quite abruptly next to ‘normal’ medical recipes. The variation goes from love-spells to magic that should cause severe damage. Perhaps an indication of changing beliefs, it seems many contemporaries were suspicious of these practices and we often find notes like “who knows if that is useful” or in the margin.

Fig.4_HUL_Pal.germ.222.f.51rFig. 4: One of the readers made a note to a treatise with verveine (Verbena officinalis): “Zauberej so vorr gott ein greuell” (“Beware, that’s magic and an atrocity to god”).

If you want to explore the collection of medical manuscripts at HUL you are welcome. You can easily browse the codices online. As of late you can leave qualified annotations to the digitized manuscripts or folios. You only have to register (cf. Fig. 5). If you have any questions, feel free to contact me @

Proprietary Panaceas and Not-So-Secret Recipes

By Alisha Rankin

How did peddlers of proprietary medicines negotiate the craze for recipes in early modern Europe? They offered recipes using their medicines, of course!

There are many examples of recipe books containing remedies for which the main ingredient is a secret cure attached to only one person. The reader would then have to purchase that ingredient before he or she could use the recipe. Famous examples of this phenomenon abound in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, Daffy’s Elixir among them, but many precursors can be found in sixteenth-century continental Europe. The medicines of Italian surgeon Leonardo Fioravanti were perhaps the most prominent, but there were a host of other empirical healers who fit this mold.

One such empiric was a German who called himself Georg am Wald, a noble-sounding name that belied his humble beginnings as the son of a bookseller. Am Wald received a law degree from Basel in 1573, but he never practiced as a lawyer. Instead, he set up practice as a healer, referring to himself a “doctor of both medicines”: a physician and surgeon. He received his medical degree from the Palatine Count in Padua in 1578, but these degrees were famous for being bought and sold–a reasonable assumption in am Wald’s case, considering that he spent less than a year in Padua. Despite being kicked out of Augsburg for failing the city’s medical exam, am Wald practiced as a doctor in Donauwörth for years, before being driven out for inciting religious dissidence. He then bought himself a castle, where he produced and sold alchemical cures.

A boring fellow he was not.

am Wald 1594 frontispiece
Panacea Amwaldina, 1594 edition
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, VD A2432

In the 1590s, am Wald became famous for an alchemical cure-all that he called the Panacea Amwaldina. He published a treatise on the cure-all in 1591, then revised and expanded it in 1594. There are many fascinating aspects of this cure–not least that it may be the first instance of using the word “panacea” to refer to an alchemical remedy–but most relevant to this blog is the way he incorporated the panacea into recipes.The recipe for the panacea itself was secret, of course. Even his closest friends were unable to pry it from him.

Nevertheless, am Wald used recipes aplenty, writing that:

Even though my panacea drives away all illnesses on its own, which the help and cooperation of the Almighty, I am nevertheless including … many recipes, which one can use in many ailments and conditions for a quicker cure.

In longstanding or especially deadly diseases, he recommended a purge before using the panacea. (An interesting recommendation, given that he touted the panacea as a gentle substance that was not a purgative.) He also gave recipes for the panacea’s use in 116 (!!!) different ailments. Am Wald included similar recipes in his letters to patients.

Am Wald 1594 marginalia
Marginal annotations on the recipes for using am Wald’s panacea
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, VD A2432

The reader of one copy of am Wald’s book in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek appears to have taken his directives seriously, as he wrote marginal notations to highlight particular recipes of interest. Even with a supposed cure-all, recipes remained crucial. Patients of course then needed to buy both his book and the panacea to be healed–a double win for am Wald!


am Wald, Georg. Kurtzer Bericht, wie und was gestalt der Panacea Amwaldina als eine einige Medicin … anzuwenden sey. Frankfurt am Main, 1591.

am Wald, Georg. Kurtzer und zum andernmal gemehrter Bericht von der Panacea Amwaldina. 1594

Short Bibliography:

Eamon, William. The Professor of Secrets: Mystery, Medicine, and Alchemy in Renaissance Italy. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2010. (A fascinating study of Fioravanti.)

Leong, Elaine and Sarah Pennell. “Recipe Collections and the Currency Of Medical Knowledge in the Early Modern ‘Medical Marketplace.’” In Medicine and the Market in England and Its Colonies, c. 1450-1850. Edited by Mark J.R. Jenner and Patrick Wallis. Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK: Palgrave, 2007.

Haycock, David and Patrick Wallis, “Quackery and Commerce in Seventeenth-Century London: The Proprietary Medical Business of Anthony Daffy,” Medical History, 25 (2005): 1-36.

Müller-Jahnke, Wolf-Dieter. Georg am Wald (1554-1616).” In Analecta Paracelsica: Studien zum Nachleben Theophrast von Hohenheims im deutschen Kulturgebiet der frühen Neuzeit, ed. Joachim Telle, 213-304. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1994.

Rankin, Alisha. “Empirics, Physicians, and Wonder Drugs in Early Modern Germany: The Case of the Panacea Amwaldina.” Early Science and Medicine 14 (2009): 680-710.

A New Year’s Recipe from Old Prussia

Handschrift Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg Amb. 279.2°, Folio 11 verso (Landauer I)
The Lebküchner, Handschrift Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg Amb. 279.2°, Folio 11 verso (Landauer I).

By Molly Taylor-Polesky

In the winter of 1397, the effects of plague were finally beginning to lift in Königsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia). The citizens, grateful that the Lord’s wrath had been appeased through their suffering and prayer, made honey cakes. They formed the cakes into deer, rabbits and people and laid them on warm oven tiles to harden. In the afternoon of New Year’s Day they carried the cakes to their neighbors with the wish that God would bless them with long life and health.

This story is recounted by Lucas David in his Prussian Chronicle (Preußische Chronik) of 1575 (p. 25–7).  David, a Protestant convert, was employed by the Duke of Prussia to revise Prussian history without the Catholic slant. He used this story about local customs to jump into a diatribe against the 1564 ordinance by the Catholic French king Charles IX that the year begin on January 1, not on Christmas. (January 1 was later also confirmed as the first day of the year by Pope Gregory’s calendar of 1582.)

The traditional New Year’s cake survived dynastic changes at the court in Prussia and was still being made there in the seventeenth century, when the Hohenzollern were Dukes of Prussia. Palace kitchen accounts from the years 1631, 1646, 1651-2, and 1655 record as much as 24 quarts of honey being used specifically for “the New Year’s dough.”[1] The court was not in residence at the palace in Königsberg over New Years in all of these years, which suggests that the cakes were not for the court itself but rather were gifts either for remaining palace servants or citizens of the town.

Even when the old Julian calendar was abandoned in the Protestant lands of the Holy Roman Empire, the honey cake remained a New Year’s tradition in Prussia-it simply migrated to the new calendar date. The 18th-century lexicographer Johann Georg Krünitz described a “Leib=kuchen (a variant name of the aforementioned honey cake) that “in some regions, for example, Prussia, was a round bread of fine wheat flour that was baked for New Year’s and either sold or given as a gift.” Krünitz continued by relating a superstition associated with the bread in which the name of the intended recipient would be written on a slip of paper and placed atop the loaf before baking. If the loaf cracked, it was an omen that the named person would die in the coming year, which eerily harks back to the role of the cake during the uncertain time of the plague.

In Königsberg in the medieval and early modern period, the honey cake took on religious and communal meanings, which changed in conjunction with other historical shifts. Ultimately, it was not the date, or the religious conflict, or cake’s role in the thanksgiving ritual that mattered. The traditions varied, but the honey cake remained.

Today, the Nuremberg recipe for Lebkuchen is the most famous of this type of spice cake and it is undoubtedly associated with the Christmas holiday in Germany. The East Prussian honey cake is all but forgotten, but recipes can still found online–and perhaps among descendants of displaced Prussians.

[1] Geheimes Staatsarchiv, Preußische Kulturbesitz, XX. H.A. Ostpreuss. Folianten. Current-day measurements estimated for “24 Stof” of honey based on Wolfgang Heidecke. “Alte Maße Altpreußens.” Altpreußische Geschlechterkunde 13 (1939): 22–23, 53–54, and 92.