An extremely rare Amsterdam editionSeptember 6, 2012
Julius Sperber, Kabalisticae praecationes, das ist ausserlesene schöne Gebet, aus des Autoris lateinischem Exemplar ins Teutsche versetzt. Amsterdam, ‘für gute Freunde’ [s.n.], 1707
Although Julius Sperber (ca. 1540-1616) wrote works with a theological and mystical slant he was not a professional theologian: he acted as physician and counsellor to the court of Christian von Anhalt in Dessau. He is now best remembered for his association with the Rosicrucian Brotherhood. Writing under the pseudonym of Julianis de Campis, he threw himself into the controversy surrounding the publication of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes in 1614-1616. He presented himself as a true Rosicrucian and even went so far as to call himself the spiritual father of Rosicrucian thought: 18 years before the Rosicrucian Manifestoes were published, he already wrote a treatise calling for the foundation of a brotherhood to foster the ideals espoused by the Rosicrucians. (Here he probably alluded to his Ein geheimer Tractatus von den dreyen Seculis oder Haupt-Zeiten, von Anfang biss zum Ende der Welt , a treatise which he wrote in 1596, but which was only published for the first time in 1660).
In his preface, Sperber explained to his readers why he chose to call the prayers collected in this volume ‘praecationes kabalisticae’: kabbalistic lore is sent from heaven straight into the hearts of the ‘holy folk’, the ‘heilige leute’, by God. It is a revelation which is confirmed by heavenly words and testimonies. Examples of the latter are texts from the Old and the New Testaments, although he does not provide any kabbalistic commentaries to these texts himself. The contents of the book or the nature of the prayers, which at first sight do not seem to be remarkable or unusual, will not be discussed here. What is special, however, are the two engravings used to illustrate this edition. These seem to be unknown in the literature, something which is partly due to the fact that only very few copies of this edition appear to have survived.
The first Latin edition of this work dates from 1600; the first German translation, which was published by Henricus Betkius in Frankfurt and in Amsterdam in 1675, is unillustrated. The translator is anonymous though it is certain that it was not Sperber, who had died many years before. The same publisher must have issued a reprint in 1685, and it is this edition which for the first time contains illustrations. Its existence is only known from secondary sources: Christoph Geismar (see below) mentions having seen a copy in a private collection though he does not mention the name of the collector. He describes the illustrations, which are greatly similar to the edition of 1707, the topic of this blog. No other copy has been traced in any of the library catalogues which are accessible via the Internet, nor are there any to be found in printed bibliographies or in special catalogues. Although it is not altogether certain, therefore, that they are identical to the prints included in what was already the third edition of this work in 1707, it is nevertheless highly likely because the reprint was published by the same publisher, Betkius. If we assume that the prints must have been made in or around 1685, by an engraver unknown to us, they acquire an extra dimension still: we only need to compare them to the illustrations below!
These illustrations were printed in two works by Böhme, the Seraphinisch Blumen-Gärtlein (Amsterdam, n.n. 1700) and the Welruikende krans van Lelyen en rosen (Utrecht, G. Muntendam 1704) respectively. The names of the engravers are also unknown, but they make use of the same iconography to be found in the illustration in Sperber: the all-seeing eye and the heart on the cross. It is almost certain that we have now found the original source of these illustrations (it would seem that the engraver of the Welruikende krans had before his eyes the Blumen-Gärtlein rather than the Kabalisticae praecationes ). This iconographical link between Sperber and Böhme also suggests that Sperber was an author well known and well read by followers of Böhme. If the edition of Kabalisticae praecationes of 1685 happens to be a ‘ghost’, which would imply that the prints were not made before 1707, the source of inspiration is obviously the other way around: in that case the illustrations in the Böhme editions clearly served the illustrator of the works of Sperber as a model. Whatever the case may be, followers of Böhme saw a clear relation between their favourite mystical author and Sperber.
The edition of 1707, incidentally, appears to be as rare as the elusive edition of 1685: apart from the copy in the BPH there is only one other copy in a public collection, in the University of Oxford collection. The copy recently acquired by the BPH came from the private collection of Friedhelm Kemp (1914-2011), a literature specialist and a translator, especially of poetry, more specifically German spiritual poetry.
Christoph Geismar, Das Auge Gottes. Bilder zu Jakob Böhme.
Wiesbaden 1993, p. 74, n. 235.