[Ed. Note. Today’s post comes from Dr. Elisabeth Esser Braun, the donor of the book discussed here. She was born in Cologne, Germany, completed her undergraduate education in Europe, and earned a doctorate from the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. She worked as a journalist at the United Nations and as an international executive. She retired in 1990 and now lives in Haverford, Pa.]
I recently came across a box of family memorabilia that included Hieronymus Oertl’s Geistlicher Frauenzimmerspiegel, published in Hanover, Germany, in 1708.
I was intrigued and wanted to know: What is a Frauenzimmer-spiegel? Who was Hieronymus Oertl? Why and for whom was this book written? How many copies exist?
Researching the story of the Geistlicher Frauenzimmerspiegel has been an interesting quest. Scant literature on the subject exists, either in German or in English . However, we know from secondary sources that this was the time of popular piety (Volksfroemmigkeit) and that these books were written as devotional and edifying guides (Erbauungsliteratur) for a female readership. Similar to Catholic prayer books and stories about the lives of saints, these books were meant to encourage Protestant women (Frauenzimmer) to lead virtuous lives as mirrored (Spiegel) in the lives of Biblical women of the Old and New Testament. The text was compiled from many sources and the books were lavishly illustrated with copperplate engravings so as to appeal through image as well as text.
The virtues highlighted in the Frauenzimmerspiegel were wide ranging. They focused on a woman’s role as wife and mother in a patriarchal society and included, among others, honesty, chastity, obedience, wisdom, courage and, more generally, strength through prayer. Even if a woman failed to conduct herself properly, all was not lost since God, in his infinite wisdom, always granted redemption through penitence and prayer. These virtues reinforced the patriarchal hierarchy of society and validated God’s orderly plan for his creation of life on earth.
Among the forty exemplary biblical women included in the Frauenzimmerspiegel were Eve, the mother of all living beings; Sara, the blessed one; Hagar, the exiled one; Lea, the patient one; Debora, the courageous one; Rahab, the faithful one; Abigail, the reasonable one; Esther, the devout one; Susanna, the chaste one; and Maria Magdalena, the repentant one.
Hieronymus Oertl, the author of the Geistlicher Frauenzimmer-spiegel, was no amateur scribe. He was born in the Free Imperial City of Augsburg and died in the Free Imperial City of Nuremberg. Although disputed, most German sources identify the year of his birth as 1543 and that of his death as 1614.
The Oertl family was well established in Augsburg. They were merchants and also served as professional bureaucrats in the administrations of four Habsburg Emperors: Charles V (resigned in 1556), Ferdinand I (d.1564), Maximilian II (d.1567) and Rudolph II (d.1612). The Oertls were quiet Protestants and had been so long before the Peace of Augsburg (1550) that concluded the era of religious strife in Germany and recognized the right of territorial princes to determine the religion of their subjects. This was popularly interpreted as promoting equal rights for Catholics and Protestants in the Imperial realm.
Little is known about Hieronymus’ education. He joined the Imperial household at age 15 and advanced from Schreibmeister (writing master), copying calligraphic manuscripts, to chronicler, author, and notary. Oertl’s name emerged from obscurity in 1578, when a group of Protestants in Vienna presented a petition (Bittschrift) to the unyieldingly Catholic Emperor Rudolf II asking that Catholics and Protestants be assured equal religious freedoms in Austrian territories, as had been sanctioned in the Peace of Augsburg in 1550.
The petition was summarily dismissed and Oertl and his companions were prosecuted as heretics. They were sentenced to death but eventually pardoned and sent into permanent exile. Oertl settled in Protestant Nuremberg, where his brother-in-law was the well-respected copperplate engraver, illustrator, and publisher Johann Ambrosius Si(e)bmacher (1561-1612). Siebmacher was also the author of a highly acclaimed Wappenbuch (heraldic book). Siebmacher became the instigator, early collaborator and illustrator of Hieronymus Oertl’s multi-volume chronicle of the Hungarian wars against the Turks (1395-1607) as well as of the early editions of the Geistlicher Frauenzimmerspiegel. Unfortunately, no copies of these early editions seem to have survived.
The Hungarian wars and the Frauenzimmerspiegel were original compendia. Both began as chronicles, reformatting writings that were readily available in Augsburg and Nuremberg as centers of commerce as well as of the printing and illustrating trade. One can assume that the period of Hieronymus Oertl’s residence in Nuremberg, from 1580 to 1614 (ages 37 to 71), was the most productive of his career .
The first devotional book compiled by Hieronymus Oertl and illustrated by Johann Siebmacher was published in Nuremberg in 1610, just a few years before Oertl’s death in 1614. It was entitled Schoene Bildnus in Kupffer gestochen der erleuchten berumbtisten Weiber Altes, und Neues Testaments (Beautiful Portraits Engraved in Copper of the Illustrious and Most Famous Women from the Old and New Testament) and was dedicated to the Margravine Sophia of Ansbach, a pious patroness of Hieronymus Oertl. This book, it turns out, was not for sale. However, as devotional books grew in popularity, Margravine’s copy became the template for commercial editions that were published over the next century in various German, Dutch and Swiss cities. It should be noted that, unlike today, the designation Frauenzimmer had no derogatory meaning and was commonly used for ordinary women and occasionally with sweeping poetic license.
According to a recent count, twenty-three editions of the Geistlicher Frauenzimmerspiegel published between 1634 and 1755 are extant in various European and American libraries. The 1708 edition here is in a long duodecimo format, commonly used for small devotional books in the seventeenth century. In all editions, Hieronymus Oertl was acknowledged as the originator (inventor) of the book. However, others, such as clerics and poets, edited, enlarged, and embellished the text, even to the extent of being in competition with each other, sometimes to linguistically startling effects. An electronic edition of the 1755 Zurich edition of the Geistlicher Frauenzimmerspiegel (Zurich,1755) is available at the Niedersaechsische Staats-und-Universitaets-bibliothek in Goettingen. My family’s 1708 edition is therefore one of only a few survivors.
The engraved frontispiece tells us that this Geistlicher Frauen Zimer Spigel contains everyday prayers freshly composed by wise men and illustrated with copper plate engravings first used by Hieronimum Ortelium. According to the title page, this 1708 edition was to be the “last edition” offered for sale by the Hauensteinischer Buchladen in Hanover. A small engraving in the lower third of the page urges its readers graphically to strive for higher reward in paradise after death.