Cranach Presse, Petronius’ Satyricon
CRANACH PRESSE, PETRONIUS’ SATYRICON
Editions of the German Cranach Presse are rarely put up for auction, and only change hands for very high prices. The Cranach Presse editions are so sought after because they rank among the classics of modern printing.
The Cranach Presse was established by the German count Harry Kessler (1868-1937). Kessler was a cosmopolitan. His father was a wealthy Hamburg banker, his mother an Irish baroness. Kessler grew up in Germany, France and England. He was a publicist (who kept a diary), diplomat, art collector, museum director and publisher.
After having gained experience at Insel Verlag, among other places, Kessler started his own printing and publishing house in Weimar in 1913. Neither cost nor effort were spared to make the finest and most sumptuous books – books that soon became an example for other private presses in Europe to follow. Kessler worked only with the best printers, type cutters and binders. In this too he showed himself to be cosmopolitan: he consistently stimulated the international cooperation between artists, and sometimes three editions of his books appeared (a French, German and English edition).
In 1927 Kessler asked the German artist Marcus Behmer to make illustrations for an edition of Petronius’ Satyricon, a picaresque novel from the Roman era describing the seamy-side of society. It was not until 1930 that Behmer succeeded in supplying the first woodcuts, because of his commitments to other publishers. By that time the Cranach Presse was in financial difficulties. Behmer provided 46 woodcuts altogether, but the Satyricon was never published. From 1931 Kessler tried to find co-financiers for his press and in 1933 he left Germany for good, out of aversion to the Nazis.
The few proofs of the Satyricon that were produced are even rarer than other editions of the Cranach Presse. One of those proofs, consisting of two folded leaves, is a part of the museum’s collection.