Herrad von Landsberg[Also Herrad von Hohenburg, Herradis Landsbergensis]
DeathMont Sainte-Odile, Alsace? (1195)
German nun, author, illustrator and abbess of the monastery of Hohenburg on Mount Sainte-Odile in Alsace. Herrad of Landsberg was the Christian author of a pictorial encyclopedia, a compendium in Latin of all the sciences studied at that time, including theology, entitled Hortus deliciarum (Garden of Delights, c.1170). It contained an illustration which is the oldest representation of a puppet play known in Europe. The manuscript had 325 pages and 336 illustrations and was authored by her while living in the monastery on Mount Saint-Odile. It was destroyed in a fire in the library of Strasbourg in the War of 1870. However, there were reproductions and several publishers have provided reconstructions.
On page 215 of the pictorial encyclopedia was an illustration showing two jugglers manipulating the figures of two warriors in chainmail and armed with swords and shields who are in the process of engaging in combat. The play is staged on a table (see Tabletop Puppetry). The figures are manipulated by means of two horizontal ropes or cords using a technique reminiscent of jigging puppets (French: marionnettes à la planchette), except that the cords are held by the hands and not attached to the legs of the two puppeteers.
There are two lines of text on the picture consisting of verses from Ecclesiastes on the vanity of all things. One says: ludus monstrorum (which can be roughly translated as “unnatural play”) and the other text: In ludo monstrorum designatur vanitatum vanitas (which can be translated as: “In playing in unnatural ways one shows the vanity of vanities”). In light of history, with the church suppressing many forms of entertainment as being evil, these lines can be interpreted as expressing disapproval of such “unnatural play”.
Yet although the encyclopedia by Herrad of Landsberg fails to give us more detail on what was the practice of puppetry arts at the time it confirms its existence and the symbolic value attached to puppets since the time of Plato.