Made for John II of Palatinate-Simmern, the Prayers of Repentance by Albrecht Glockendon is one of the finest gems of illumination. It was produced in the transition period from the Middle Ages to modern times, the late blossom of book painting before printed books finally took over.
This exciting period is uniquely reflected in the work and in the lives of its "creators": the manuscript was painted by Albrecht Glockendon in 1532-33 for the Count Palatine John II, although it seems to have been intended as a present for his youngest son Reichard.
Between the Middle Ages and Modern Times
Germany in the first half of the 16th century: the land is split into hundreds of sovereign states; Reformation shatters the traditional powers, questioning age-old certainties; news from foreign countries and foreign people stimulate new ideas, printed books ensure the spreading of knowledge and new thoughts; the first religious wars, social upheaval, and the beginning Inquisition shake the land to its very foundations.
It is the beginning of modern times, a period of change. Some wholeheartedly welcome the new while others try to salvage the "good old things" which in their eyes represent long-standing values and eternal truths.
The Prayers of Repentance bears testimony to this change: written and painted when printed books were already around, its emphasis on penitence and its rejection of the Flemish style conveys one last time the spirit of the Middle Ages in an impressive manner. On the other hand it stages a spectacular "fashion show", displaying the colourful dress of the Renaissance down to the minutest detail.
The Patron: John II of Palatinate-Simmern (1492-1557)
John II of Simmern, Count Palatine by Rhine, Duke in Bavaria, Count to Sponheim, was the image of an ideal ruler: a cultivated person and lover of the arts, tolerant and politically engaged. In 1523 he became imperial governor in the Reichsregiment, a central government body of the Estates, and from 1536 to 1539 he was president of the Imperial Court at Spires.
A ruler, politician, and jurist, John II was so popular throughout the realm that everyone simply called him "Herzog Hans". However, John II’s work was blessed not only at the level of imperial politics, but also in his own small home-country: he forcefully advocated the interests of his subjects and ensured legal security, education, and public order.
His contemporaries were the first to celebrate him as illustris et generosus princeps, a poet and scholar on a princely throne, glorifying his open-mindedness and his appreciation for the arts and sciences.
John II maintained contacts with artists and scientists alike, ordered important works of art, and was active as writer, publisher, translator, and graphic artist himself. Remarkably John established a printing house in Simmern and thus was one of the first princes to promote this then rather new technology.
The Illuminator: Albrecht Glockendon (c. 1495-1545)
One of the major centres of illumination in Duerer’s Germany, besides Augsburg, was the free imperial city of Nuremberg. There the art of illumination lay in the hands of the Glockendon family, who more or less monopolized this craft.
Albrecht Glockendon was the younger of the two famous sons of this dynasty of artists’ founder, Georg Glockendon, the Elder: he settled down by 1484. Both of his sons handed down in turn their talent and family tradition to the next generation.
Albrecht Glockendon was not only active as illuminator, but also as publisher of woodcuts. His contemporaries did not know him as book painter but as printer. Thus the artist of the Prayers of Repentance himself appears to be a representative of modern times.
The Manuscript – A Hugely Original Work
The Prayers of Repentance is a unique work. The author of the commentary volume, Dr. Ulrich Merkl, justly calls it a "dwarf" that in reality is a "giant in terms of originality and quality, unrivalled even by its most spectacular cousins, the choral books which weigh 30 kilos and are the size of a tabletop".
Seven out of nine full-page miniatures illuminate the Old Testament story of David and Bathsheba. The Prayers of Repentance were illustrated with David scenes for two reasons: King David is held to be the author of the Psalms, and he is the exemplary sinner and penitent – his story describes the deep fall of a man who finally attains forgiveness.
Albrecht Glockendon used the story of King David to impressively demonstrate his skill. He indulges in a lavish description of the real world down to the minutest details, decorating elaborate architectural forms with pillars, gables, and balconies, filling his interiors with furniture, drinking cups and books, providing a glance of the valuable fabrics of the bedcovers, napkins and curtains. In addition, he presents the sumptuous fashion of the Renaissance much like on a catwalk.
The book was probably rebound in dark-brown leather during the 18th century and trimmed to the format 14.5 × 10.6 cm on the occasion.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Prayers of Repentance by Albrecht Glockendon for John II Palatinate-Simmern": Bußgebetbuch von Albrecht Glockendon für Johann II. von Pfalz-Simmern facsimile edition, published by Faksimile Verlag, 2010