The Grünenberg armorial and seven of its copies: an assessment of the mutual dependency

Thanks to Heraldica Nova, we are witnesses of one of the most surprising findings in the modern research of medieval heraldry. It is now clear that the famous armorial of Conrad Grünenberg, which is carefully preserved in the Geheimes Staatsarchiv of Preussischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin (GStA PK VIII. HA, II 21) was not copied only once, as was generally accepted until recently, but that there exist several copies of this jewel of German medieval heraldic art.  Seven of them are in public libraries or archives, at least one more copy is a part of a private collection.

Thanks to the kindness of Dr. Bernd Konrad and Dr. Karel Muller, and of course the availability of the digitized Grünenberg copies, I was able to study and to compare a sufficient number of drawings as found in the Berlin manuscript and in seven other manuscripts as well. In the present blogpost, I will try, on the basis of my findings, to present my idea about the mutual relations between the respective copies. I consider my model still as a hypothesis, fully open to any kind of criticism. As I will argue, the seven copies can be grouped in three distinct groups of manuscripts which represent three branches of the transmission.

The Munich and Aistersheim manuscripts

1) The Munich copy (BSB München, cgm 145) was probably made shortly after the original paper codex (the Berlin manuscript) was finished as its representative version on parchment. The original commissioner or owner of it is not known; Bavarian dukes purchased it in the first half of the 16th century from Weingarten Abbey. Accordingly, its first folio bears a coat of arms of Bavarian dukes, which can be attributed either to the duke Wilhelm IV. (1493-1550) or to his brother and co-ruler Ludwig X. (1495-1545).

2) The Aistersheim copy (Oberösterreichisches Landesarchiv Linz, Neuerwerbungen Hs. 214) was purchased from the library of Aistersheim castle in 1989. How and when it reached Aistersheim is not known. It is drawn on paper by a skilled professional painter, with legends written in almost calligraphic script. According to the analysis of watermarks performed by Dr. Bernd Konrad, it originated around the year 1580, using paper of Tirolian provenience. I dare to speculate that the person who commissioned this copy was archduke Ferdinand of Tirol (1529-1595), a famous collector and art lover (and also supreme ruler of Konstanz). This suggestion is based not only on the coincidence in time and place, but also on a big similarity, in respect to the drawing style and handwriting, with at least one artwork of the same kind, which the archduke commissioned as well, with a copy of famous Ehrenspiegel des Hauses Österreich (now ÖNB Wien, Cod. 8613 and Cod. 8614).

It is evident that these two copies (Munich and Aistersheim) were made with the intention to be as close to the original as possible, not only from the content, but also from the drawing style points of view. Differences from the original are marginal in both cases.  Both copies comprise a row of characteristic aspects, few of them I present herein for illustration:

  • They both contain full-page illustrations of “Helmschau” (Munich copy, pg. 233), “Twelve standard-bearers” (Munich copy, pg. 235) and “Tournament” (Munich copy, pg. 237), which are not present in the original.
  • Neither the Munich nor the Aistersheim manuscript contains the author´s “exlibris” with the arms of Grunenberg present in the Berlin original (Fol. 99r of new pagination).
  • The introductory text (Berlin original, Fol. Ir) is not placed on Fol. 1, but in the section of quaternions, on the same folio number in the both copies.
  • Neither of the copies contains the sentence disclosing the date of finishing the armorial (Berlin original, fol. Iv), which has been placed after the introductory text in the original.
  • The depiction of Emperor Friedrich III is completely identical in both copies with that in the original (fol. 38 of new foliation), except of that the Aistersheim copy does not exhibit damascene cloth covering the throne.

An important difference between the both copies can be found in the section of Quaternions, on the folio with Four Pillars of the Empire (Fig. 1). The Berlin original (Fol. Vr) has here, in accordance with other contemporary lists of quaternions, the arms of Count Palatine of the Rhine. The Munich copy bears the same arms, however with a later written notice “Should be Bavaria and not the Palatinate” and with a sketch of Bavarian arms. Indeed, it can be observed at other painted or written artifacts that the Palatinate was replaced by Bavaria in the Four Pillars set within the Quaternions in the course of time. The earliest examples I am aware of date from 1495 (the Quaternionenadler in Zellerhaus at Innsbruck, the Braunschweiger Weltchronik of Herrmann Bote, the Kölner Chronik of Johann Koelhoff etc.). The Aistersheim copy has already replaced Palatinate by Bavaria, by means of a shield quartered the Palatinate lion with Bavarian lozenges, i.e. by the arms actually used by contemporary Bavarian dukes.

All in all, we may conclude that the Munich copy was copied from the Berlin original, while the Aistersheim copy was copied from the Munich copy.

Fig. 1 :Four pillars of the Empire – a comparison

Fig. 1 :Four pillars of the Empire – a comparison

Mirrored images and missing ladies: the manuscripts from Brno, Konstanz, Ortenburg and Schwarzenberg

The next four copies exhibit one common basic characteristics. Almost all figures of persons and architecture, which are present in a relatively large amount in the armorial in addition to the coats of arms, are, in comparison with the original armorial, drawn as mirror images turned along the vertical axis (see Fig.2 as an example). Thus, it appears that all four copies are members of the same family with a common ancestor or archetype.

A possible explanation why this archetype with mirror images was made was provided to me by Prof. Dr. Tomas Krejcik. In his view, the “Ancestor” was made to serve as a master book for making a printed edition of the armorial. The relatively complicated full-page illustrations and motives were drawn as mirror images, which would result, after copying them from the paper on the wooden blocks, engraving and printing, to pictures with the same orientation of sides as the original drawings. The coats of arms were reproduced into uniform graphic patterns made by a pre-print from wooden blocks (the unified pattern of shields, helmets and mantlings, sometimes leading to a drastic simplification of the original composition – e.g., on the folio showing the arms of Electors – is the further characteristics of this group of manuscripts).

A certain drawback of this theory lies in a fact that we actually do not know any example of such master book from other sources. However, it is very probable that the four next copies indeed had a common source, as will be apparent from the text.

The second characteristic element connecting all four copies is the fact that none of them comprises the above mentioned full-page images of the “Helmschau” and “Tournament”, while the third one, “Twelve standard-bearers”, is present. Also the introducing lady with the standard of Turniergesellschaft der Bayern (Berlin original, Fol. CLXIII) is missing.

The copies of this group are sorted after their presumed dates of origin.

3) The Brno copy (Moravian Land Archives Brno, sign. G12 Cerr. II, 397) was added to the family of  known copies only recently.  The date of origin and early fate of this version (drawn by a skilled artisan on paper) is not known. Bernd Konrad performed a preliminary analysis of the drawing and handwriting style (without a possibility to study the watermarks) and came to a raw estimation of the date of the origin as post-1550.

4) The Konstanz copy (Rosgartenmuseum Konstanz, Hs. 1971/54) is the only one which consists from two separate books. The date of origin is also unknown, codicological analysis suggests the end of the 16th or the beginning of the 17th century.  It should be noted that the armorial ex-libris of Königsegg and Waldburg in the 1st and 2nd volume, resp., could indicate the ownership of Johann Georg Freiherr von Königsegg-Aulendorf (d. 1622) and his wife Kunigunde Grafin von Waldburg-Zeil-Wolffegg (d. 1604).

5) The Ortenburg copy (BSB München, cgm 9210), drawn on parchment, is the only manuscript which is dated (1604). It was purchased in 1640 by Friedrich Casimir Graf von Ortenburg, and he Bavarian State Library owns the book since 1996.

6) The Schwarzenberg copy (Castle Library Hluboka nad Vltavou [Frauenberg], sign. Cod. 9729) is very young in comparison with all the preceded, Bernd Konrad estimates its origin at about 1680 (The exlibris of Ferdinand prince Schwarzenberg dated 1690 provides the terminus ante quem).  It was drawn with no sense for accuracy and detail, probably by a dilettante painter from the noble court. It should be bore in mind that the Schwarzenbergs were in possession of the county of Klettgau (Bodenseeregion), which they inherited from counts of Sultz in 1687.

All the copies were apparently made with the simple goal “to have something nice”, i.e. without any intention to bring an added value to the original.

The connections between these four copies can be at least partially revealed when we concentrate on mutual differences or on mistakes arisen during copying. So for instance:

  • The Palatinate arms noted above (see Fig.1) has been replaced in all four cases by Bavarian lozenge arms, wherein, quite erroneously, the original Palatinate crest was maintained. The Ortenburg copy furthermore changed the colours of the arms of the Duke of Swabia, a mistake which is not repeated in any of the remaining copies of this group. The original illustration of four pillars is reduced to a single pillar, wherein the Brno, Konstanz and Schwarzenberg copies have it placed in the middle of the page, while in the Ortenburg manuscript it is found on the left side.
  • The Brno and Konstanz copies exhibit the same mistake (black horns instead of red) in the arms of counts of Horn (Four Hunters in the Quaternions system, Berlin original Fol. 34 of new pagination), a mistake which is not found in the Ortenburg copy.
  • Brno and Konstanz have the black eagle in the arms of Dukes of Milan (group of Four Italian Lords in the Quaternions system, Berlin original Fol. VIIIr) placed on the green background, while Ortenburg correctly has gold, the same as at the original manuscript.
  • The figure of the Emperor Friedrich III noted above does not bear any arms in the Konstanz copy, while the Ortenburg has three of them, similarly as has the Munich copy and contrary to the Berlin original; however, they are completely erroneous.  The remaining two copies do not have this picture.
  • The arms of Lichtenau (Four Hamlets in the Quaternions system, Berlin original Fol. XVIIv) has its colours reversed at Brno, wherein the drawing at Konstanz, having the same error, is yet more simplified. The Ortenburg copy has arms identical with the original.
  • The Queen of Amazons (Berlin original Fol. XLIr, see Fig.2) is accompanied by a violet banner at Brno, while the Konstanz and Schwarzenberg exhibit a blue one, the Ortenburg has a red one. None of these banners bears golden badge as the original and Munich/Aistersheim copies do.

Specific differences between the copies of this group allow reconstructing the mutual relations between them:

  1. None of these four copies is the desired archetype.
  2. The (now lost) archetype was made from the Munich copy, not from the Berlin original or from the Aistersheim copy.
  3. The Brno and Konstanz copy are directly related. The differences in pictures indicate that the Konstanz copy is the daughter of the Brno copy, not vice versa. The Brno copy is a daughter of the archetype.
  4. The Ortenburg copy is a separate daughter of the archetype.
  5. The Schwarzenberg copy is incorrect and simplified to such extent that a definite statement cannot be made. It certainly belongs to the subgroup Brno-Konstanz, and probably is based on the Konstanz copy.
Fig.2 Queen of Amazons – a comparison

Fig.2 Queen of Amazons – a comparison

The Zurich manuscript

The last (but not the least) Grünenberg manuscript that deserves our attention is the

7) Zurich copy (Zentralbibliothek Zurich, sign. A 42), probably made between 1515 and 1527, based on the evaluation of historical records, which the codex comprising the armorial contains. The manuscript actually is not a true copy of the Grünenberg Armorial. Rather, the latter served as an inspiration – the author of the Zurich armorial has added a row of his own pictures and plenty of accompanying text and comments. So, it might be even regarded as a separate armorial.

The Zurich copy, drawn by a skilled artisan using the same technique as those employed for the original and the first two copies, was apparently not copied from the Berlin original as it comprises the scenes of Helmschau and Standard-bearers, which are not present there. The model from which it was copied was probably the Munich copy (I exclude the Aistersheim copy only because of a presumption that it is younger). When turning back to the folio with the Four Pillars of the Empire, which helped us in the case of the preceded copies, we can see that the Palatinate arms has also been replaced by the quartered Bavarian arms.  When comparing the known pictures of the Quaternions, such replacement appears not earlier than before 1550. I thus dare to suggest that the date of origin of the Zurich copy should be shifted to at least 1550.  It is the only copy, which was made by someone who was quite skilled in the art of history and heraldry, i.e. not just a professional or amateur painter.

The suggested stemma codicum of all known versions of the Grunenberg armorial based on the above comparison is presented on the scheme shown below.  I am aware that it is not more than a speculation. First, we do not know the actual date and place of origin of any of the copies and second, it is not excluded that next copies will appear in future. So please consider it as a starting point, which can be discussed and corrected.


<i>stemma codicum</i> for the Armorial Grünenberg (Frantisek Picha)

Fig. 3: stemma codicum for the Armorial Grünenberg (Frantisek Picha)

Cite the article as: František Pícha, "The Grünenberg armorial and seven of its copies: an assessment of the mutual dependency", in: Heraldica nova. Medieval Heraldry in social and cultural-historical perspectives (blog on, published: 19/02/2016, Internet:

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