Vertical case  •  H:114cm x W:84cm x D:40cm
Poems by Hrabanus Maurus (c. 835):
9. "Nate patris summi..."
10. "Nate patris summi..." (1459)
and "Spiritus alme..."

11. "Astsoboles domini..."
12. "Astsoboles domini..." (1605)
13. "Salve sancta salus Christi..."
14. "Omnipotens virtus maiestas..."
15. "Reg regum dominus mundum..."

De laudibus sanctae crucis [In praise of the holy cross], a collection of 30 carmina quadrata by abbot Hrabanus Maurus of Fulda, is perhaps the most spectacular collection of visual poetry in the entire first millennium of the common era. Ironically, this magnum opus was created in a period when many other such works were destroyed by Charlemagne's son, Ludwig the Pious (r. 816-840), who systematically purged his father's library (the finest in Europe) of all works that were not specifically Christian in nature. It is not hard to imagine that fine examples of "pagan" visual poetry were among the works lost.

The twenty-eight numbered poems in De laudibus sanctae crucis display a heretofore unseen creativity in the design of the smaller poems inset in each larger grid. No two are alike, and the visual motif of the cross is depicted in many imaginative ways. Maurus's greatest innovation is the expansion of intexts beyond geometric lines, into fully pictorial art. Easily recognizable images include people, animals, angels and archangels; trees, plants and flowers; solid geometrical forms; and large letters composed of smaller letters.

The remaining two unnumbered poems are perhaps the most impressive in the collection: portraits of Emperor Ludwig and of Christ on the cross, both of which occupy nearly the entire frame of their "main" poems.

Three hand-drawn manuscripts exist: one in the Vatican Library, one in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna, and the third (badly damaged by fire but subsequently restored) in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Torino. A fourth manuscript, copying the original designs, was created in 1459 and currently resides at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.

Facsimiles from these manuscripts are on display here, as well as later typeset versions from 1503 and 1605. De laudibus was typeset by several printers in the incunable era (the time immediately following the invention of the printing press), possibly as a way for printers to demonstrate their prowess with the developing technology. Although these editions lack the charm (and full color) of the manuscripts, they are fascinating examples of early book printing, and are of course more widely available.

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