Sigmund Gossembrot / 4

The Four Labyrinths with 4 Arms und 8 Circuits

Four drawings by Gossembrot show labyrinths with 4 arms and 8 circuits. Among these, two each are on a circular and rectangular layout. Figure 1 shows these four figures compared. Figures a (circular) and c (rectangular) have the same course of the pathway (=). This is also true in figures b (circular) and d (rectangular). The two circular figures (a, b) as well as the two rectangular (c, d) have different courses of the path (≠).

Figure 1. The Four Designs Compared

All four figures bear inscriptions in their centers.

Figure a (fol. 51 v): „Laborintus inducens et educens“ – labyrinth leading in and leading out

Figure b (fol. 52 r): „Laborintus tamen educens nunquam intus perveniens fines“ – labyrinth leading out but nowhere arriving at the center

Figure c (fol. 52 v below): „Ibi introis et exis“ – here you enter and exit.

Figure d (fol. 52 v above): „Der Irrgang clausus est et numquam introibis“ the maze is closed and nowhere you enter.

From this we can see, that Gossembrot was engaged with the difference between labyrinth and maze. Figure 2 shows, using the lower, rectangular images, that the design of the side-arms in all four images is the same (areas within blue frames). The figures on the right side only differ with respect to the design of the main axis from those on the left side (areas within red frames). This becomes also clear from the patterns shown at the bottom of fig. 2. The left figures are labyrinths, the right figures are a special form of a simple maze. The pathway enters on the 6th circuit and there it branches. One branch continues to the first side-arm. There it turns to the 7th circuit, makes a full circuit and thereby traverses the main axis. It again turns at the first side-arm, leads back through the outer circuits 6 – 1 and arrives back in the other branch of the bifurcation. The innermost 8th circuit is completely isolated from the rest of the course of the pathway. It begins in a dead-end, does one round and ends in the center.

Figure 2. Labyrinth and Maze

So it seems, Gossembrot had derived a maze from the labyrinth. As a matter of fact, there exists a second historical labyrinth with the same pattern. This is sourced in a autograph (1456/63) of the Nuremberg physician and humanist Hartmann Schedel (see literature, below). The labyrinth drawn freehand was affixed to one of the last blank pages of the autograph. This autograph is accessible online in the same digital library as the manuscript by Gossembrot (further links, below). The original drawing of the labyrinth is oriented with the entrance to the left side. In fig. 3, for a better comparability, I have rotated it with the entrance to the bottom.

Figure 3. Type Schedel

Based on the earlier date (1456/63) of the publication by Schedel, I have named this type of labyrinth with „type Schedel“. Gossembrot was friends with Hermann Schedel, the uncle of Hartmann. The manuscript by Gossembrot dates from 1480. Having stated this, it has also to be considered that the labyrinth drawing of the Schedel autograph was affixed. Therefore it could also have been added later. Thus, it is well concievable that the drawings by Gossembrot were earlier and thus Gossembrot could have been the originator of this type of labyrinth.


  • Kern H. Through the Labyrinth: Designs and Meanings over 5000 years. London: Prestel 2000, p. 126, fig. 216.

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