The Heidelberg Rapunzel

Two lovers. From the Codex Manesse, c.1305-1315
Two lovers. From the Codex Manesse, c.1305-1315

This illustration is from the Codex Manesse, or Großer Heidelberger Handschrift, a 14th century anthology of Middle High German poetry. The Codex contains 140 texts including works by the famous poets Wolfram von Eschenbach (the author of Parzival), Heinrich von Morungen and Walther von der Vogelweide. The manuscript was produced in Zürich for the wealthy Manesse family, passing in 1607 to the renowned Bibliotheca Palatina in Heidelberg. After being in French hands for around 170 years, the Codex Manesse was bought back by Heidelberg University in 1888 through a public subscription headed by none other than Kaiser Wilhelm I and Otto von Bismarck.

The illustration does not in fact have anything to do with the fairytale Rapunzel, but it appears to tell a very similar story; a lady hoisting up her secret lover for a tête-à-tête in her isolated tower. I find this illustration very amusing as a comparison; this ‘Rapunzel’ figure is much more sensible and proactive than the princess we are all used to. Building a type of winch attached to a basket may not be as romantic as making a rope out of one’s own hair, but it is certainly safer and a lot more practical. I leave you to draw what conclusions you like about the fabled German efficiency…

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