A Brill Calendar: December 5
Pirckheimer and the Love of Books
Few reputations of the untold band of scholarly humanists alive half a millennium ago during the European Renaissance of Classical Antiquity –have remained continuously in admiring circulation amongst intellectual elites since then; dwarfed by giants like Desiderius Erasmus and Thomas More.
Yet, a cultural avalanche like this shift in awareness cannot be reduced to less than a handful certified celebrities: without a sturdy army – however small it may have been – there would have been no generals. One of these troops was Willibald Pirckheimer, born in a patrician family on December 5, 1470 in Eichstätt, Saxony, a few years Erasmus’ junior.
Pirckheimer died on December 22, 1530 in Neurenberg, some five years before that generalissimo of all scholarly humanists died in Basel, and during the early years of an all-encompassing religious Revolution in Northern Europe. Willibald combined his love for learning and ‘bonae litterae’ with the life of a diplomat and politician serving Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I, father of Charles V. But Pirckheimer didn’t author ever-green titles like More’s ‘Utopia’ (‘Nowhere land’) or Erasmus’ ‘Encomium Moriae’ (‘Praise of Folly’). It is seldom in any general survey of the great intellectual revolution changing Christianity and Europa irrevocably during his life-time that Pirckheimer’s name is even mentioned.
To the well-informed general Anglophone academic tradition he seems almost a stranger; circlets of scholarly specialists excepted, as always. That is hardly a tragedy, probably, but certainly a pity. Because of the exquisite private library he collected and enlarged assiduously, with a keen eye for beauty & quality - ultimately a sea of books held in admiration and awe by his contemporaries - many bibliophiles in humanist quarters came to see Willibald Pirckheimer as Patron Saint of the Love of Books.