A 16th Century Cinderella?

irrig schaf tp wm

Magdalene College Old Library K.11.44.  Geiler von Kaysersberg, ‘Das irrig Schaf. Sagt von kleinmuetigkeit und verzweiflung…’ [Strasbourg : Getruckt durch Magistrum Mathias Schürer, [1510]

This book by Johann Geiler von Kaysersberg, Das Irrig Schaf…, is a set of seven morality tales published in the opening decades of European printing.  It contains one of the earliest versions of the Cinderella story, complete with one of the first printed illustrations of the heroine.  Geiler von Kaiserberg adapted the works into German from moral sermons by the French scholar Jean Gerson, whose works Geiler had edited previously.

Eschen grudel wm

Woodcut of ‘Der Escher Grüdel’.

Concerning the Cinderella connection, one must tread carefully: fairy tales are known for their ancient and uncertain origins.  However, it is said that one of the morality tales in this book, Der Eschen Grüdel is a forerunner of the Brothers Grimm story ‘Aschenputtel’ or ‘ash fool’.  The woodcut illustration shows ‘Cinderella’ cleaning by the hearth.

Geiler von Kaysersberg (1445-1510) was one of the most popular preachers in 15th century Europe.  He was ordained in 1470, and his principal positions were at Freiburg University and Strasbourg cathedral, working at the latter from 1478 to his death in 1510, in the same year that Das Irrig Schaf was published.  A pulpit at the cathedral was built in Geiler’s honour in 1486.  An extreme example of gothic architecture decorated with 50 statuettes, the pulpit can still be seen in Strasbourg.

Eck Bookplate

Bookplate of Johann Eck

This particular copy of Das Irrig Schaf was owned by Johann Eck, one of Martin Luther’s foremost theological opponents. Mazour-Matusevich has cited Eck as one of Jean Gerson’s ‘spiritual descendents’, and therefore it is not surprising that this particular book was in Eck’s collection.  The book boasts Eck’s fine woodcut-print and stencil-coloured bookplate by Hans Springinklee, a pupil of Dürer’s.

On the book’s title page above, one can see the inscription ‘Biblioth[ecae] acad[emiae] Ingolstad[iensis]’, referring to the library of Ingolstadt University in Bavaria.  Johann Eck taught at Ingolstadt from 1510 until his death in 1543, so it was pertinenent that this book came to be in the University Library’s stock.  The book is likely to have been removed from the University Library in the 19th century as a result of the University moving twice – first to Landshut, then refounded in Munich.  Perhaps it was disposed of as a duplicate: a copy which was kept in Munich can be seen in full on the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek’s website.

A sale label at the rear of the book suggests that it came to the open market in France soon after being deaccessioned in Munich, and the book was donated to the Old Library by Sir Stephen Gaselee, former Pepys Librarian and Librarian of the Foreign Office.  He gave many books to Magdalene and the University Library; his notes in pencil on the upper pastedown of the book suggest that he was most interested in the bookplate and the provenance of the book, rather than the book’s content.

By Catherine Sutherland

Deputy Librarian, Pepys Library and Special Collections



Mazour-Matusevich, Yelena. ‘Jean Gerson’s Legacy in Tübingen and Strasbourg’. The Medieval History Journal 13, no. 2 (1 October 2010): 259–86. doi:10.1177/097194581001300203.

‘The British Museum Images – Search’. Accessed 16 August 2017. https://www.bmimages.com/results.asp?image=00703781001&imagex=1&searchnum=0001.

‘GEILER VON KAISERSBERG, Johann (1445-1510). Das Irrig Schaf. Sagt von Kleinmuetigkeit Und Verzweiflung. Geprediget Und Gedeutscht… Mit Sampt Den Nachvolgenden Tractaten.  Strassburg: Matthias Schurer, 1510. Accessed 16 August 2017. http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=5662715.

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