The family album of Valentin Winsheim returns to the Luther House

45 years ago it was stolen from the then permanent exhibition in the Luther Hall - now it is returning to the Luther House: the 16th century family album of Valentin Winsheim with a handwritten entry by Philipp Melanchthon. With the return by the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, both institutions started a cooperation for the digitisation and digital presentation of prints from the 16th century.


The family album comprises 25 leaves in the very rare duodec format (9.5 cm high and 7 cm wide) with 34 entries, mostly in Latin, but also in Greek and German. They date from the years 1557 to 1591 and include, for example, the reformer Justus Menius, the humanist Joachim Camerarius and - particularly noteworthy - a woman: Lucrezia von Berlepsch. Of particular importance for the Luther Memorials Foundation in Saxony-Anhalt, however, is the entry by Philipp Melanchthon. He is the first in the genealogical book and certainly also the most famous contributor. He quotes the church father Epiphanius (ca. 315 to 403) in Greek and continues the quotation with his own explanatory words in Latin. For Melanchthon, Epiphanius formulates a core of Reformation theology: the biblical text does not require allegorical interpretation, but the original wording must be understood through grammar and logical order. It also needs a lot of practice and experience. Melanchthon used this idea of Epiphanius more frequently in the 1550s in Stammbuch entries, but always varied it anew.

The history of the Stammbuch, today we would call it a poetry or friendship album, has its origins in Wittenberg. At the university in particular, students would present their teacher with one of his printed works and ask him to make an entry. The dedications of the Wittenberg reformers such as Luther and Melanchthon were very popular. Almost at the same time, it became customary in aristocratic circles to ask visitors for an entry in a book from the host's possession. Later, people carried small, narrow books with blank pages with them on their travels and asked travel acquaintances, fellow students and friends for an entry.

Little is known about Valentin Winsheim. He lived from 1521 to 1591 and came from Dippoldiswalde. He studied theology in Leipzig and later worked as a pastor in the former Electoral Saxon town of Tennstädt in Thuringia. However, it is not yet known where Winsheim met Melanchthon and asked him to make an entry in his genealogical book.

The family album has been in the possession of the Luther Hall since 1913. It was acquired from the auction house C. G. Boerner in Leipzig. In 1976, it was stolen from the permanent exhibition in Wittenberg and since then has been considered lost. In 2002, the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin State Library - Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) acquired it at an auction of the Gerda Bassenge Gallery, not knowing that it was stolen property. After concluding a corresponding agreement, it was returned to the Luther Memorials Foundation. With the cooperation between the two institutions, which started at the same time, the Luther Memorials Foundation provided the State Library with prints from the early 16th century, which it will digitise and present to the public via its digital collections. Among them is the Klugsche Gesangbuch from 1533, in which Martin Luther's chorale "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" first appeared. This can already be viewed online at

The family album is now in the collections of the Luther Memorials Foundation and will in future be part of the permanent exhibitions in the Luther or Melanchthon House.

Photo credits: © Luther Memorials Foundation of Saxony-Anhalt / Photo: Uwe Schulze