Picturing Experience in the Early Printed Book

Breydenbachs Peregrinatio from Venice to Jerusalem

Hardback or cased
Elizabeth Ross
Published 25 Mar 2014
List Price £56.95



“Bernhard von Breydenbach’s account of his pilgrimage from Venice to the Holy Land and Egypt revolutionized book publishing when it appeared in 1486. Erhard Reuwich’s accompanying woodcuts include highly detailed, multiblock foldout plates. Thanks to Elizabeth Ross’s beautifully written text, I feel like an armchair traveler peering over the artist’s shoulder as he documents the exotic people, cities, and creatures his party encountered. Part detective, part ethnographer, and always a sensitive art historian, Ross deftly explores the book’s creation, reception, and claims of authority and truthfulness. This is the best study in any language of the Peregrinatio in terram sanctam.”

—Jeffrey Chipps Smith, University of Texas at Austin

“One of the most popular books of the early printing industry, Bernhard von Breydenbach's Peregrinatio in terram sanctam (Journey to the Holy Land) was published in Mainz in 1486 and had many later editions. Breydenbach and his painter/publisher companion, Erhard Reuwich, set themselves ambitious goals. The book was intended, in the first instance, as a practical guide for pilgrims to Jerusalem. Equally important, as Ross discusses at length, was the embedded argument for the return of the sacred lands of the East to Christian control. The first in-depth analysis in English, this study explores both the artistic and intellectual achievements of the Peregrinatio. Beautifully produced, it includes large color plates of the seven famous woodcut views of cities along the route from Venice to the East that set a model for later chronicle books. Especially rich is the chapter on Reuwich’s extraordinary foldout combination map and topographical view of Jerusalem, presented here as a synthesis of multiple sources, from portolan charts to 15th-century Netherlandish ‘world landscapes’—all of it distilled via firsthand viewing. A valuable contribution to the Peregrinatio literature.”

—D. Pincus, Choice

“This study is a monograph in the proper sense, a broadly cast and well integrated interpretation of a major marking point in the history of travel, geography, religious politics, and book printing. Regarding the many unresolved problems—for example Reuwich's pictorial sources, the precise circumstances of the book's production, the texture of the narrative and its basis in actual experience—Ross is fully informed and ventures no unsupported conclusions. . . . The design [of Ross’s book] is notably generous and the production exceptional, appropriate to the study of an important monument in the history of the book. . . . Above all there is the elegance and clarity of the writing: measured, jargon­free, and often commanding as well. Not only is this book a pleasure to read, but also the care taken in the research and the soundness of the author's judgment are manifest throughout.”

—Peter Parshall, The Medieval Review

“The persistence of scholarship on aspects of cross-cultural encounters between Christian Europe and the Muslim East in the medieval and early modern period is testament to an ongoing interest in the multifarious ways in which Europeans engaged with, represented, and perceived their eastern counterparts. Ross makes a valuable contribution to scholarship in the field and concurrently to our understanding of authority and representation in early printed works.”

—Amanda van der Drift, Parergon

“Elizabeth Ross writes convincing arguments in elegant prose. Moreover, her book is a refreshing, jargon-free study, dripping with ideas and analysis.”

—Kathryn M. Rudy, The Historians of Netherlandish Art

“Ross provides an engaging account of how text and image work together in the Peregrinatio in terram sanctam. The narrative she constructs, however, does more than simply tell us about the making of a single book. It also suggests new ways for scholars to look at how authors and artists collaborated in the earliest days of European printing to construct meaning and authority through carefully recorded, and meticulously packaged, experience.”

—Eric J. Johnson, Sixteenth Century Journal

Bernhard von Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio in terram sanctam (Journey to the Holy Land), first published in 1486, is one of the seminal books of early printing and is especially renowned for the originality of its woodcuts. In Picturing Experience in the Early Printed Book, Elizabeth Ross considers the Peregrinatio from a variety of perspectives to explain its value for the cultural history of the period. Breydenbach, a high-ranking cleric in Mainz, recruited the painter Erhard Reuwich of Utrecht for a religious and artistic adventure in a political hot spot—a pilgrimage to research the peoples, places, plants, and animals of the Levant. The book they published after their return ambitiously engaged with the potential of the new print medium to give an account of their experience.

The Peregrinatio also aspired to rouse readers to a new crusade against Islam by depicting a contest in the Mediterranean between the Christian bastion of the city of Venice and the region’s Muslim empires. This crusading rhetoric fit neatly with the state of the printing industry in Mainz, which largely subsisted as a tool for bishops’ consolidation of authority, including selling the pope’s plans to combat the Ottoman Empire.

Taking an artist on such an enterprise was unprecedented. Reuwich set a new benchmark for technical achievement with his woodcuts, notably a panorama of Venice that folds out to 1.62 meters in length and a foldout map that stretches from Damascus to Sudan around the first topographically accurate view of Jerusalem. The conception and execution of the Peregrinatio show how and why early printed books constructed new means of visual representation from existing ones—and how the form of a printed book emerged out of the interaction of eyewitness experience and medieval scholarship, real travel and spiritual pilgrimage, curiosity and fixed belief, texts and images.


Chapter 1—Introduction: The Pilgrims and their Project

Bernhard von Breydenbach and his Pilgrimage

The Role of Erhard Reuwich

Chapter 2—The Authority of the Artist-Author’s View

The Censorship Edict of 1485

Breydenbach’s Self-Presentation as an Author

The Artist as Eye-Witness

These Animals are Truly Depicted as We Saw Them

Gart der Gesundheit (Garden of Health)

The Artist-Author’s View in Petrarch and Van Eyck


Chapter 3—Mediterranean Encounters: Lady Venice, Holy Land Heretics, and Crusade

Crusade in the 1480s and the Turks Tithe

Mainz Printing and the Selling of Crusade

The Peregrinatio’s Journey between Venice and Heresy

Other Heretics of the Holy Land

Venice Influenced, Venice as Influence

What They Took from Peter Ugelheimer and What They Left Behind

Chapter 4—The Map of the Holy Land: Art-Making as Cartography

Mappae Mundi

The Burchard Map of the Holy Land

Portolan Charts

The Pilgrims’ Itinerary and Itineraries of Other Travelers

Netherlandish Pictorial Space

Chapter 5—The View of Jerusalem: Perspectives on a Holy City

The Centripetal View from Mamluk Monuments

The Franciscan Indulgenced View

Putting Islam at the Forefront of a Christian View

The Meaning of al-Haram al-Sharif for the Pilgrimage of 1483–84

Coda: The View from the Jewish Quarter



Elizabeth Ross is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Florida.

Examines the creation in 1483 of the first illustrated travelogue, Peregrinatio in terram sanctam (Journey to the Holy Land), by Bernhard von Breydenbach and his artist, Erhard Reuwich of Utrecht. Focuses on the early use of the print medium to influence public opinion.