Johannes Stumpf, Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckeren Chronick wirdiger Thaaten Beschreybung

Printed by Christoph Froschauer, Zurich 1548

Druckermarke des Christoph Froschauer

Both Johannes Stumpf and Christoph Froschauer were responsible for the publication of “Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckeren Chronick wirdiger Thaaten Beschreybung” (= Description of the cities, regions and people of the laudabel confederation as well as a chronicle of the worthy doings), also referred to as Reformationschronik (engl. Chronicle of the Reformation). And neither one of them can be considered impartial.

Johannes Stumpf was one of Zwingli’s closest associates. He supported him in his fight for Zurich’s Reformation. His father-in-law had bequeathed the preliminary work of a chronicle to him, which he reorganized for the purpose of the Reformation. He turned his chronicle into a manifest against the rule of the Habsburgs, who represented Catholicism and the alliance with the papal Church in the first half of the 16th century. If you believed Stumpf’s statements, the Swiss had always been enemies of the Habsburgs. This was a deliberate political falsification, which remains deeply embedded in the national consciousness of Switzerland to this day.

Christoph Froschauer, too, was part of the Zurich reformer’s inner circle. The so-called “Affair of the Sausages” took place in his house, which was a deliberate provocation against the Church during the Lent fast. Even though Froschauer had printed indulgences in his early days, he soon deployed his entire media power in the interests of the Reformation and Zwingli’s work.

Of course, the author was of great service. However, without Froschauer’s immense publishing effort, the chronicle would never have been as long-lastingly successful as it ended up being. With the issue of this work, the printer built on a practice popular among the Swiss upper class. Rich and powerful cities owned picture chronicles that did not only record their ancestors’ deeds, but were also elaborately illustrated. Those magnificent volumes were often presented to impress diplomats or convince oneself of one’s own importance. People then got together, looked at the opulent illustrations and expressed their pride in their community.

Froschauer gave the Protestant upper class a picture chronicle that was in keeping with the times. For this purpose, he invited one of the best book illustrators of his time: Heinrich Vogtherr from Strasbourg. He wrote about it in a letter to the St. Gallen-based historian Joachim von Warr on January 18, 1545: “The current status of the chronicle is as follows: the best painter there is took up his work in my house on November 11th. He receives 2 gulden a week as well as food and drinks; he does nothing but create woodcuts for the chronicle. No expenses will be spared here!” And Vogtherr really did manage to produce 400 woodcuts in a relatively short amount of time, which made the chronicle interesting for those, too, who struggled to read the whole book.

The woodcuts are indicative of the time of their creation. Whether it is a plump priest who administers Communion as a representative of the Catholic Church and therefore embodies the enemy stereotype of the Reformation, whether it is an army attacking with pike squares and canons, whether it is sentenced robbers tweaked with red-hot pliers and broke on the wheel: the depictions represent what the artist was familiar with from his own observations. This is what makes this chronicle so exciting: it provides insight into daily life in Zwingli’s time, even though Stumpf writes about very different countries and a time long gone.

Stumpf did not restrict his work to Switzerland. He wanted to consider the events in a pan-European historical context. The fact that he applied his Reformation point of view for said past as well does not lessen the chronicle’s value as a historical source in any way. On the contrary: it proves that every era writes, interprets and uses its own history according to its respective point of view. And it shows us that sometimes, we can learn more about the author’s present from a work on history than about the past it set out to describe.

The Zentralbibliothek in Zurich does not only own the chronicle’s manuscript penned by Stumpf himself, but has also made Froschauer’s print available online.

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