About HoB Editions Student Projects Taylor Reformation

A Monstrous Misbirth as History of the Book Project

Exploring Taylor Institution Library ARCH.8°.G.1523(8) by Katarina Ristic

As part of my MSt. during the 2022/23 academic year, I was offered the opportunity to do my History of the Book project on the Taylorian’s copy of Martin Luther’s 1523 pamphlet Deuttung der grewlichen figur des Munchkalbs tzu Freyberg in Meyssen gfunden. This project allowed me to contribute to the ever-growing corpus of digital editions of Reformation pamphlets, and my digital edition has joined others in the Reformation section of the Taylor Editions website (Taylor Institution Library, 2018).

Title page with monk-calf woodcut (fol. 1r)

Martin Luther, Deuttung der grewlichen figur des Munchkalbs tzu Freyberg in Meyssen gfunden [Erfurt, Wolfgang Stürmer 1523]

Title: Deuttung der grewlichen figur des || Munchkalbs tzu Freyberg in || Meyssen gfunden.|| D. Martin. Luther.||

Imprint: 1 sheet, 4 leaves, in 4°.

Taylor Institution Library, ARCH.80.G.1523(8)

Woodcut: (likely) Lucas Cranach the Elder WA 11, VD16 L 4424

The aims of this semi-collaborative project were to produce a highly diplomatic transcription, which I would later encode into XML (Extensible Markup Language) using TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) standards, and ultimately have it feature on the Taylor Editions platform as a digital edition. The collaborative aspect of the project allowed us to compare woodcuts, reflect on the translation angle and why the original pamphlet was translated, and consider other monstrous texts. It also opened the door for the creation of a joint Twitter account (@LuthersMonkCalf), which has been used to encourage engagement with: our texts, both in terms of their content and material aspects through the use of guessing games and questions; the Reformation corpus as a whole; and ultimately our digital editions. Whilst the French (Ksenia Dugaeva, MSt. Modern Languages) and English (Elena Trowsdale, MSc. Digital Scholarship) translations include both Philipp Melanchthon’s pope-donkey and Luther’s monk-calf, my project focused on digitising the copy of the monk-calf pamphlet held by the Taylorian. Through using social media, my aim was to reproduce Reformation-era mass-media-style distribution of ideas, but online.

The process: from the material object to the digital edition

Upon accessing ARCH.80.G.1523(8), I first examined the material aspects. I observed that the pamphlet was bound into a book with 22 empty padding pages, with a type of library binding: flat back case binding (Roberts and Etherington, 1982:103, 158). This led me to assume it was bound when it came into the Taylor Institution’s possession in 1878, likely originating from the Heidelberg University collection (Fabian, 2003; Lähnemann, 2022:xli-vliv; Krümpelmann, 2020:xl). The addition of extra pages makes it usable as a study text, and, alongside the binding, it ensures the text block and the pamphlet are not significantly damaged further – a decision that was made for a whole series that were bound in the same way. Gold foil blocking was used to create the lettering on the spine, although not very neatly (Pearson et al, 2010:9).

Taking the pamphlet out of its storage box for the first time, view of the spine and lettering: ‘LUTHER – DEUTTUNG DER GREWLICHEN FIGUR_– 1523

My next step was to take photos. I photographed the text for transcription purposes, and anything I observed, such as: evidence of repair work, smudged and damaged text, uneven ink coverage, grime and dirt (see fol. 1r), and also the binding and upper pastedown.

Evidence of repair with wove paper, most likely done by a conservator (Bendix, 2022)

I also noted the manicule and underlining on fol. 4v, which provided evidence of contemporary readership and allowed me to see what a reader found important when engaging with Luther’s text, that is, Luther’s cautionary conclusive statement (Betten, 1925:258-9; see fol. 4v).

fol. 4v: manicule and underlining

When I looked at the pamphlet again, this time using a light source, I was able to find the watermark and sketch it on a separate piece of paper. Finding this watermark aided me in determining the size of the sheet of paper used to print this pamphlet, since when I measured its placement, I noticed it was not centred. Its location in the gutter of folios 2v and 3r confirms the quarto format, but the placement indicates the sheet had been trimmed, possibly from a sheet that was foolscap in size (Werner, 2019:30). The rough sketch below shows how the watermark resembles an ox’s head surmounted by a line and circle [Ochsenkopf mit Stange und Kreis].

A rough sketch of the watermark

Each time I picked up the pamphlet to analyse it in the Taylorian, I was able to deduce more about it as a material object, so that I could describe it aptly to those who cannot access the physical copy.

Transcribing the text

Before starting, I looked up alphabets in different typefaces so as to not only be able to compare and deduce what the text resembled most, but also to help me read the text in the first place, especially as some words and letters were initially difficult to determine. Taking on this task originally felt like cryptography, but, once I became more used to the process, it ran much more smoothly. I spent hours in front of my screens to transcribe the text as correctly as possible; for the sake of efficiency, I inserted the special characters I already knew where possible, or left descriptive placeholders to either add in the Unicode later or determine what it was later, e.g. [different r], [u with e above], [squiggle??] (I later found out those were hyphens [=] for word division across lines). If you are someone who will soon be transcribing a text, I would recommend that you remember to take regular breaks, otherwise your eyes might suffer.

Encoding the text

For this aspect, I had prepared by undertaking Emma Huber’s XML course on Taylor Editions. The process of starting to encode the text in Oxygen involved a lot of trial and error, but it was satisfying when it all came together and the XML document was both well-formed and valid.

Elena Trowsdale, an MSc Digital Scholarship student who worked on the English translation, then edited my code, and the encoded transcription of the pamphlet was subsequently uploaded to Taylor Editions, where it was connected to the English and French translations in preparation for the launch of an exhibition on Early Modern Monsters in the Taylorian in June 2023. It was very exciting to see our hard work uploaded online on the platform as official digital editions, and to see them included in the exhibition.

Researching for my report: important questions

What is the context of the content of this pamphlet? Why were people in the sixteenth century so fascinated by monsters and monstrous misbirths?

In that time period, people were convinced that doomsday was definitely nigh, a conviction which Luther constantly repeated, and monstrosities were seen as a vessel for God’s messages (Buck, 2014:2; see fol. 1v). Since monsters were then regarded as ‘divine prodigies, warnings from God calling sinners to repentance’, people would interpret ‘monstrous misbirths’, such as that of the monk-calf, as a sign of impending doom and would try to determine the hidden meaning behind it (Buck, 2014:2; Cameron, 2012:427). The monk-calf itself created the opportunity to analogise it with monks due to its appearance; its deformities would have reminded one of a tonsure and a ‘monk’s cowl’ (Cameron, 2012:427; Betten, 1925:258). It was therefore interpreted by Reformers like Luther as a sign of the sins of the Catholic Church, but also by some Catholics as a sign of the sins of the Reformation (Loewe and Firth, 2023:153-4; Spinks, 2009:64).

Why might this pamphlet on the monk-calf have been published separately from its pope-donkey counterpart?

The original Wittenberg edition, as well as the majority of other editions and the French and English translations, featured both the monk-calf and pope-donkey, whilst this pirated Erfurt edition only featured the monk-calf. My conclusion was that the monk-calf may have been more interesting and relevant in terms of geography since the pamphlet talked of a monstrous birth found near Erfurt, whilst the pope-donkey was found in the River Tiber. The printer, Wolfgang Stürmer, would have published his version for readers wanting cheaper instalments instead of a double volume, using the title page’s design for marketing appeal.


Through my research and analysis in my report, I was able to determine how provenance would have been established, by identifying similar printing idiosyncracies, and could evidence the rushed nature of counterfeit printing.

In terms of my own personal journey, given that this was my first experience with Early New High German and Luther’s texts in their original form as opposed to modernised versions, this project offered an illuminating challenge and allowed me to take a more in-depth step into the world of Reformation literature. Whilst I struggled at first to understand the text, especially as abbreviations and punctuation conventions were unfamiliar to me, I was able to help myself through further reading on Early New High German, Luther’s style, as well as the context behind Reformation monsters. I am also immensely grateful for Prof. Henrike Lähnemann’s guidance throughout my project, as well as Emma Huber’s help with my digital edition.


Primary sources

ERFURT EDITION = Luther, M. (1523) Deuttung der grewlichen figur des Munchkalbs tzu Freyburg in Meyssen gfunden. [Erfurt]: [Wolfgang Stürmer].

WITTENBERG EDITION = Melanchthon, P. and Luther, M. (1523) Deuttung der zwo grewlichen Figuren Bapstesels zu Rom und Munchkalbs zu freyberg jn Meyssen funden. Wittemberg: [Joh. Grunenberg]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3931/E-RARA-26230 (Accessed: 13 March 2023).

Critical edition

WA11 = Luther, M. (1900) Schriften, 11. Band, Predigten und Schriften 1523. Edited by P. Pietsch. Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger (D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe). (Accessed: 13 March 2023).

Secondary sources

Bendix, C. (2022) Care for damaged books. 3rd edn. London: Preservation Advisory Centre. (Accessed: 13 March 2023).

Betten, F. (1925) ‘The Cartoon in Luther’s Warfare against the Church’, The Catholic Historical Review, 11(2), pp. 252–264.

Buck, L.P. (2014) The Roman Monster: An Icon of the Papal Antichrist in Reformation Polemics. Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press (Early modern studies, 13).

Cameron, E. (2012) The European Reformation. 2nd ed. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Fabian, B. (ed.) (2003)Taylor Institution Library’, in Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. [Online] Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien. (Accessed: 13 March 2023).

Krümpelmann, M. (2020) ‘The History of the Taylorian Copies’, in H. Jones and H. Lähnemann (eds) Martin Luther: Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen: On the Freedom of a Christian. Oxford: Taylor Institution Library (Treasures of the Taylorian: Series One: Reformation Pamphlets, 3), pp. xil–lxvi.

Lähnemann, H. (2022) ‘The Publication’, in H. Jones and H. Lähnemann (eds) Martin Luther: Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen und Fürbitte der Heiligen: An Open Letter on Translating and the Intercession of Saints. 2nd edn. Oxford: Taylor Institution Library (Treasures of the Taylorian: Series One: Reformation Pamphlets, 5), pp. xxix–xliv.

Loewe, A. and Firth, K. (2023) Martin Luther and the Arts: Music, Images and Drama to Promote the Reformation. Edited by C. Ocker. Leiden: Brill (Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions).

Roberts, M.T. and Etherington, D. (1982) Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology. Washington: Library of Congress. Available at: https://ia803006.us.archive.org/0/items/bookbindingconse0000robe/bookbindingconse0000robe.pdf (Accessed: 13 March 2023).

Spinks, J.S. (2009) Monstrous Births and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-Century Germany. London: Pickering & Chatto (Religious Cultures in the Early Modern World, 5).

Taylor Institution Library, University of Oxford (2018) Taylor Editions / Topics / Reformation, Taylor Editions. Available at: https://editions.mml.ox.ac.uk/topics/reformation.shtml (Accessed: 13 March 2023).

Werner, S. (2019) Studying Early Printed Books, 1450-1800: A Practical Guide. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Exhibition on the Monk-Calf at SUB Dresden

Table of abbreviations used in the pamphlet

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