Behold a Beautiful 400-Year-Old ‘Friendship Book’ Featuring the Signatures of Historic Figures

Main­tain­ing the bal­ance of pow­er among Euro­pean states has always been a fraught affair, but it was espe­cial­ly so in the years when mer­can­til­ism made frag­ile alliances dur­ing the reli­gious wars of the 17th cen­tu­ry. This was a time when mer­chants made excel­lent diplo­mats, not only because they trav­eled exten­sive­ly and learned for­eign tongues and cus­toms, but because they spoke the uni­ver­sal lan­guage of trade.

Ger­man mer­chant and diplo­mat Philipp Hain­hofer from Augs­burg was such a fig­ure, trav­el­ing from court to court to meet with Europe’s renowned dig­ni­taries. As he did so, he would ask them to sign his album ami­co­rum, or “friend­ship book,” also called a stamm­buch. Each sign­er would then “com­mis­sion an artist to cre­ate a paint­ing accom­pa­ny­ing their sig­na­tures,” Ali­son Flood writes at The Guardian.

“There are around 100 draw­ings” in his auto­graph book, known as the Große Stamm­buch, “which took more than 50 years to com­pile.” After Hainhofer’s death in 1647, his friend August the Younger—who helped col­lect the hun­dreds of thou­sand of books in the Her­zog August Bibliothek—tried to acquire the book but failed. Now it has final­ly land­ed in the huge library, one of the world’s old­est, almost 400 years lat­er, after a pur­chase at a pri­vate auc­tion this week.

Friend­ship books were com­mon­ly used at the time to record the names of fam­i­ly and friends. Stu­dents used them as year­books, and Hain­hofer began his col­lec­tion of sig­na­tures as a col­lege stu­dent. He grad­u­al­ly gained a select clien­tele as his career advanced. Sig­na­to­ries, the His­to­ry Blog points out, “include Holy Roman Emper­or Rudolf II, anoth­er HRE Matthias, Chris­t­ian IV of Den­mark and Nor­way, Cosi­mo II de’Medici, Grand Duke of Tus­cany…” and many oth­ers.

Hainhofer’s Große Stamm­buch is, as you can see, a beau­ti­ful work of art—or almost 100 col­lect­ed works of art—in its own right. “The elab­o­rate­ness of the illus­tra­tions direct­ly cor­re­sponds to the signatory’s sta­tus and rank in soci­ety,” as Grace Ebert notes at Colos­sal. It is also a fas­ci­nat­ing record of Ear­ly Mod­ern Euro­pean pol­i­tics, trade, and diplo­ma­cy, a fine art all its own.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:  

160,000 Pages of Glo­ri­ous Medieval Man­u­scripts Dig­i­tized: Vis­it the Bib­lio­the­ca Philadel­phien­sis

800 Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts Are Now Online: Browse & Down­load Them Cour­tesy of the British Library and Bib­lio­thèque Nationale de France

The Vat­i­can Library Goes Online and Dig­i­tizes Tens of Thou­sands of Man­u­scripts, Books, Coins, and More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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