Aventinus, Johannes: Works

Johannes Turmair (1477-1534) is still regarded as the "founder of Bavarian historiography" today. His work has left its indelible mark on the image of Bavarian history. Turmair, the son of a publican from Abensberger called himself Aventinus after his home town following a popular trend of the time. Aventinus left a voluminous collection of personal papers which has so far not been evaluated comprehensively.

Aventinus received his first schooling in the local Carmelite monastery. After studying in Ingolstadt, Vienna, Cracow and Paris he returned to Bavaria. Since his study time in Ingolstadt he was close friends with the universal scholar Konrad Celtis (1451-1509), who encouraged him to learn more about the history of his home country. Between 1509 and 1517 Aventinus was the tutor of the princes Louis (who encouraged him to learn more about the history of his home country. Between 1509 and 1517 Aventinus was the tutor of the princes) and Ernest (1500-1560), the younger brothers of Duke William IV (born in 1493, reigned 1508-1550). Within the framework of this pedagogical assignment he created the "Rudimenta grammaticae", the "Rudimenta musicae" and some smaller works on Bavarian historiography. He was appointed official Bavarian historiographer in 1517 - an office which was established at the Munich court specifically for him. In this context he wrote his "Annales ducum boiariae" from 1517 to 1521, and the "Baierische Chronik" from 1522 to 1531.

Since the disputatious scholar had made himself increasingly unpopular by criticizing the Catholic Church in the Duchy, he was arrested in October 1528 on orders of the Duke and was released eleven days later. From now on he endeavoured to create a future for himself outside Bavaria and wrote letters to the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg (reigned 1519-1540) and to Georg Spalatin (1484-1545), the counsellor of the Elector of Saxony Johann the Steadfast (reigned 1525-1532). Since he could not receive a positive answer, he moved to the imperial city of Regensburg, where he died on 9 January 1534.

The importance of Aventinus

As the first Bavarian historiographer Aventin intensively sought documents and tangible objects which fitted the described events as closely as possible regarding time or space. For this purpose he made use of the rich monastery libraries in the Duchy, where - much to the annoyance of the librarians - he frequently made handwritten entries in their codices.

His "Baierische Chronik" in particular is an impressive linguistic monument, a south-German counterpart of Luther's bible, in which glorious and disgraceful acts of past times were presented to the broad public for their moral instruction.

The Edition 1881-1908

None of the great historiographic works of Aventinus was published in his lifetime, however: His sovereigns kept the manuscripts locked away. The "purged" editions and unauthorized prints published from 1554 onward made Aventinus more widely known. Particularly after 1806 Aventinus's glorification of Bavaria's past made him an important principal witness of the traditions and values of the new kingdom, for which reason his 400th anniversary in 1877 was celebrated with the erection of monuments, ceremonial acts and publications.

Members of the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Bavarian Academy of Sciences) thus also had the idea to dedicate a publication to one of the most outstanding historians, whose judgement had a lasting impact on the country's historiography. The "Sämmtliche Werke" ("complete works") were published in five volumes from 1881 to 1886, however without actually containing all the texts by the humanist. An addendum volume of 1908 represented merely an incomplete supplement. Particularly for the reason that the personal papers are so voluminous, time and again works and fragments appear that are thought to be Aventinus's.

The Aventinus Manuscripts

When all important works by Aventin had been published between 1881 and 1886, this edition project of the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften was regarded as a flagship project for handling the works of important humanists. However some harsh criticism was voiced from the Academy's own ranks, that the scholarly work had been too superficial, in particular concerning the edition of the annals.

Although up to now numerous pieces have been published on the works of the "father of Bavarian historiography", his personality and its development have been treated only cursorily. The reason for this is simple: The goal of the "Sämmtliche Werke" was the production of a static, "good" edition. The editors decided what was important and what was unimportant, without actually having to justify their decisions objectively. One example probably stands for some others: It is not mentioned anywhere that Aventinus entered drafts for the "large" annals in the so-called "small" annals. To put it differently: The "Sämmtliche Werke" convey the impression that the large annals are one single stroke of genius, whereas they were the final result of a development that lasted for much more than one decade. On the other hand the manuscript of the annals found with Aventinus represented the collection notebook for newly obtained results – as was already found out by Meyer. Closer inspection of these manuscripts will surely unearth much information on Aventinus's later works.

Heinrich Wanderwitz

>> The collection is part of the holdings of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library). The collection is under construction.