Erasmus in Basel
19 November 2020
Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) spent more than ten 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.
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 center of humanism and the capital of publishing and printing in the fifteenth century.
The Swiss Museum for Paper, Writing and Printing (The Basler Papiermühle) in St. Alban in Basel is a cultural heritage from the heydays of this industry.
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).
The Erasmus profile by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) also dates from this period. An authentic image is exhibited in the Kunstmuseum of Basel. Holbein took care of the artistic design of the publications of Froben’s publishing house and, therefore, also of Erasmus’ works.
His son Hieronymus Froben (1501-1563) took over the printing/publishing business in 1527.
In the years 1525-1529, Basel adopted the Protestant faith. Erasmus remained (critically) Catholic, but he did not leave Basel.
Erasmus was buried in theBasler cathedral in 1536, not far from his last residence in Haus zum Lufft on the Bäumleingasse.