Lessons from Reutin: What exactly was the Dominican Observance responsible for in the ‘Literaturexplosion’ of late medieval Germany?

Stephen Mossman, Manchester (Stephen.Mossman@manchester.ac.uk)

My paper will offer a set of hypotheses concerning the impact of the Dominican Observant reform on the literary culture of later medieval Germany, established on the basis of a comprehensive study of the manuscripts and incunable volumes from the rural Württemberg nunnery of Reutin near Wildberg on the Nagold (Landkreis Calw).

I will consider, first, the changes in patterns of book ownership and production that can be determined in connection with the introduction of the Observant reform to Reutin in 1478. Attention will be paid in particular to the way in which the provision of texts supplied through Observant literary networks must be seen alongside, and not in opposition to, the absorption of texts into the conventual library that reflect instead the shared tastes of aristocracy and enclosed religious women within a distinctively regional literary culture.

Remains of the Reutin nunnery (photo by the author)
Remains of the Reutin nunnery (photo by the author)

Second, I will examine the question of the relationship between Latin and German within the literary culture and the spirituality of the convent, and argue that a culture of private Latin prayer should be placed alongside the liturgy as the principal focus for the nuns’ acquisition of Latinity.

Third, I will consider the shape of book acquisition – the copying of manuscripts and the purchase of printed books – in the final decades of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. This allows new insights into the regional interplay between manuscript and print, which should be understood not in terms of replacement and supplantation, but of the exercise of medial choices by authors and future owners alike. The significant corpus of printed works of Latin theology and canon law acquired at Reutin from 1478 onwards provide, finally, extensive evidence for their context of use. These works were used not by the nuns themselves, but by the ‘penumbra’ of clerics around their convent. Their acquisition should be seen in the light of changes in the higher education of clergy and to the availability and cost of printed books in the mid-1470s, coincidental with, and not the product of, the introduction of the Observant reform.

Miniatur from an antiphonale donated to the Reutin nunnery (Landesmuseum Württemberg, Stuttgart / P. Frankenstein; H. Zwietasch).

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