Hans Holbein der Jüngere (1497-1543), Erasmus, 1523. Sammlung: Kunstmuseum Basel. Foto/Photo: TES

Erasmus and Basel

Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) spent eight years in Basel in four periods (1514-1516, 1521-1529, 1535-1536). Like many of his contemporaries, the humanist and scholar travelled throughout Europe. The elite of artists, scholars, students, traders, monks and spiritual and secular (aristocratic) rulers was much more European in the Middle Ages than nowadays.

Holbein took care of the artistic design of the publications of Froben’s publishing house and Erasmus’ works. His son Hieronymus Froben (1501-1563) took over the printing/publishing business in 1527.

Collection: Historisches Museum Basel

Latin was the lingua franca. They read the same books, listened to the same music, had the same cultural background, and shared the same (university) education. In short, they spoke the same language, which did not detract from the many (religious, economic, political or dynastic) differences, (belligerent) strifes and disagreements. The rise of the nation-state in the nineteenth century changed this attitude and mentality.

Erasmus felt at home in an environment of learning, humanism and (relative) tolerance. Basel was the European centre of humanism and the capital of publishing and printing in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Basel 2022, Rhine, the cathedral (das Münster) and the ancient building and garden of the university (1460)

The Swiss Museum for Paper, Writing, and Printing (The Basler Papiermühle) in St. Alban in Basel is a cultural heritage from the industry’s heydays.

Many of Erasmus’ works were written, printed and published in Basel. His famous Greek translation of the New Testament was, for example, written and published in Basel and published by his friend Johannes Froben (1460-1527).

From 1525 to 1529, Basel adopted the Protestant faith. Erasmus left for Freiburg (Baden) but returned in 1535. He died on 11 July 1536 and was buried in the Basler cathedral near his last residence, Haus zum Lufft, in the Bäumleingasse.

Basel, the cathedral

The Münsterplatz