Brant: The Helen Scene

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In the top half of the image, Helen [Elena] sits near the altar in the temple of Vesta (567-9). To her left, Aeneas stands ready to charge at her, but Venus stands at his shoulder and shows him that the war is not the fault of Helen but of the gods. In each of the four corners a god is represented: in the lower left, Neptune shakes the walls and foundations of the city (610-2); in the lower right, Juno calls to a ship of Greek soldiers (612-4); in the upper right, Pallas Athena stands inside a storm cloud with light radiating from her (615-6); in the top left, the hand of Zeus shoots fire, apparently a visual representation of the courage which he gives the Greeks (617-8). To the right of Helen, a tower falls; to the left of Venus, Trojans jump from a flaming tower. (Katy Purington)

Woodcut illustration from the “Strasbourg Vergil,” edited by Sebastian Brant: Publii Virgilii Maronis Opera cum quinque vulgatis commentariis expolitissimisque figuris atque imaginibus nuper per Sebastianum Brant superadditis (Strasbourg: Johannis Grieninger, 1502), fol. 176r, executed by an anonymous engraver under the direction of Brant.

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Sebastian Brant (1458­­–1521) was a humanist scholar of many competencies. Trained in classics and law at the University of Basel, Brant later lectured in jurisprudence there and practiced law in his native city of Strasbourg. While his satirical poem Das Narrenschiff won him considerable standing as a writer, his role in the transmission of Virgil to the Renaissance was at least as important. In 1502 he and Strasbourg printer Johannes Grüninger produced a major edition of Virgil’s works, along with Donatus’ Life and the commentaries of Servius, Landino, and Calderini, with more than two hundred woodcut illustrations. (Annabel Patterson)

Bibliography: 

Werner Suerbaum, Handbuch der illustrierten Vergil-Ausgaben, 1502–1840 (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2008) VP 1502, no. 71.

Annabel Patterson, “Sebastian Brant: Illustration as Exegesis,” in Pastoral and Ideology: Virgil to Valéry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), p. 92.

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1502
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University of Heidelberg
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