Item author: Hroswitha
Item date: 1501, Nuremberg
Grant Value: £10,000 from FNL's B. H. Breslauer Fund
Item cost: £30,000
Item date acquired: 2014
Item institution: Cambridge University Library
Town/City: Cambridge
County: Cambridgeshire

The Opera Hrosvite illustris virginis were edited by Conrad Celtes from the sole surviving manuscript known at the time, and printed in Nuremberg under the first book publishing privileges granted to cover the whole Holy Roman Empire. Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim was born in the 930s and lived in Gandersheim Abbey in Saxony. Her works comprised three books: the first included eight verse legends, the second six dramas based on the works of Terence; the third covered the rise of the Ottonian dynasty and the foundation of Gandersheim Abbey. Hrotsvitha is renowned not only as a great female author, but as the first author of either sex to write dramas since classical antiquity.

Hrotsvitha’s works were remarkably little known for over 500 years. The first known manuscript was re-discovered in the 1490s by Conrad Celtes. Johannes Tritheim had a copy made of the eleventh-century manuscript, which Celtes marked up for the printers, after which the edition was printed in Nuremberg in 1501, published under the auspices of the Sodalitas Celtica, a humanist ‘academy’ founded by Celtes.

This is considered to be the first example of a work published under a privilege covering the Holy Roman Empire. As well as the highly important literary content, the volume includes eight woodcuts, two by Albrecht Dürer. It is in very fine condition, and is one of only three of the known 50 copies in the UK.

This grant was awarded from FNL's B. H. Breslauer Fund, thanks to the generosity of the President and Officers of the B. H. Breslauer Foundation.

Durer's woodcut from Opera Hrosvite illustris virginis. Image: Cambridge University Library.
Durer's woodcut from Opera Hrosvite illustris virginis. Image: Cambridge University Library.