Herrad of Landsberg
Herrad of Landsberg (c. 1130 – July 25, 1195) was a 12th-century Alsatian nun and abbess of Hohenburg Abbey in the Vosges mountains. She is known as the author of the pictorial encyclopedia Hortus deliciarum (The Garden of Delights).
Born about 1130 at the castle of Landsberg, the seat of a noble Alsatian family. She entered the Hohenburg Abbey in the Vosges mountains, about fifteen miles from Strasbourg, at an early age. She became abbess there in 1167 and continued in that office until her death.
As early as 1165 Herrad had begun within the cloister walls the work for which she is best known, the Hortus Deliciarum, a compendium of all the sciences studied at that time, including theology. In it, Herrad delves into the battle of Virtue and Vice with vivid visual imagery preceding the text.
The work, as one would expect from what we know of the literary activity of the twelfth century, while not highly original, shows a wide range of reading. Its chief claim to distinction is the three hundred and thirty-six illustrations which adorn the text. Many of these are symbolical representations of theological, philosophical, and literary themes; some are historical, some represent scenes from the actual experience of the artist, and one is a collection of portraits of her sisters in religion. The technique of some of them has been very much admired and in almost every instance they show an artistic imagination which is rare in Herrad's contemporaries.
The poetry which accompanies the excerpts from the writers of antiquity and from pagan authors is not the least of Herrad's titles to fame. It has the defects peculiar to the twelfth century, faults of quantity, words and constructions not sanctioned by classical usage, and peculiar turns of phrase which would hardly pass muster in a school of Latin poetry at the present time. However, the sentiment is sincere, the lines are musical, and above all admirably adapted to the purpose for which they were intended, namely, the service of God by song. Herrad, indeed, tells us that she considers her community to be a congregation gathered together to serve God by singing the divine praises
The fate of the manuscript
After having been preserved for centuries at the Hohenburg Abbey, the manuscript of Hortus Deliciarum passed into the municipal Library of Strasbourg about the time of the French Revolution. There the miniatures were copied in 1818 by Christian Moritz (or Maurice) Engelhardt; the text was copied and published by Straub and Keller, 1879-1899 . Thus, although the original perished in the burning of the Library of Strasbourg during the siege of 1870 in the Franco-Prussian War, we can still form an estimate of the artistic and literary value of Herrad's work.
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- Chadwick, Whitney, Women, Art, and Society, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990
- Harris, Anne Sutherland and Linda Nochlin, Women Artists: 1550-1950, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Knopf, New York, 1976
- "Herrad of Landsberg". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.