Erasmus and Johann Froben

An unmistakable feature common to the title pages of many Erasmus publications is the printer’s device (or trademark), of Erasmus’ principal publisher, Johann Froben of Basel. Their fruitful collaboration enabled Erasmus to publish numerous iconic humanist texts, perhaps the most celebrated being his New Testament together with his multi-volume editions of works by the Church Fathers (Augustine, Jerome, Chrysostom, and many others).

Erasmus joined Froben’s staff of humanist editors in Basel after finding out about the fine Froben edition of his Adagiorum Chiliades in 1513. With Froben already engaged in plans to publish the works of Jerome, Erasmus was keen to be part of Froben’s team at a publishing house eager to assist him in realising his own publishing agenda. After his death, the Froben press published the first collected edition of Erasmus’ works.

Without Froben and, more generally, without the development of the printing press, Erasmus’ work would never have spread across Europe and met with the success it ultimately achieved. Indeed, one of Erasmus’ greatest accomplishments was to recognise the potential inherent in the medium of print. With sometimes over 1,500 identical copies per edition, printed as part of Froben’s publishing programme, Erasmus achieved for his humanistic agenda a level of influence and fame unimaginable in previous centuries.

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