Sigmund Gossembrot / 7


At the end I want to summarize some findings of the previous six posts on Gossembrot. In my opinion, two main aspects seem important.

New types of labyrinths

Gossembrot has created two labyrinths with unique courses of the pathway, and thus designed two new types of labyrinths. The five-arm labyrinth on fol. 51 r is an outstanding type of labyrinth. The one-arm labyrinth with nine circuits on fol. 53 r is one of the rarer non-alternating types of labyrinths. Furthermore, a third new type of a four-arm labyrinth is hidden in the drawing on fol. 53 v.

Gossembrot could also have been first in drawing the Schedel type labyrinth (fol. 51 v) or the scaled-up basic type (fol. 54 v). It is true, that the manuscript containing the Schedel type is dated somewhat earlier than the one by Gossembrot. However, the drawing in Schedel manuscript could also have been added later. The two earliest examples of the scaled-up basic type are dated from the 15 th century without further precision. Thus, they could also have been generated later than 1480. However, I think this is unlikely. Both examples (Hesselager and Sibbo) were desinged in the classical style – which is the style that best matches with the natural way of designing this type of labyrinth.

Approaches to mazes

Gossembrot was strongly involved with the difference between labyrinth and maze. This is well attested by the mazes he had derived from the labyrinths of the Schedel type (fol. 52 r and fol. 52 above) and, following an other approach, from the Chartres type (fol. 54 r). And also by the fact that Gossembrot took this complex labyrinth for his best labyrinth.

I think also that his rejected design on fol. 53 v is not a mistaken attempt to the five-arm labyrinth on fol. 51 r. But instead, it seems to me that this is a failed attempt to derive a maze from the five-arm labyrinth. This is particularly supported by the design of the main axis. This was amended in a similar way as the ones of the mazes (fol. 52 r and fol. 52 v above) Gossembrot had derived from the Schedel type labyrinth.

It was not until the 15 th century that the creation of mazes began. The first drawing of a maze by Giovanni Fontana dates from year 1420 (see literature below: p. 138, fig. 239). Gossembrot was one of the first to draw mazes. His mazes, however, are, even compared with some other ones by Fontana (literature, p. 238, fig. 240), still rudementary and are fully based on unicursal labyrinths.


Gossembrot undoubtedly has his great importance in the design of unicursal labyrinths. Even if he must have been very fascinated by the maze, such that he himself took a maze for his best labyrinth, his drawings still represent tentative approaches and attempts to mazes. Contrastingly, he has created awesome original designs with fundamental innovations in unicursal labyrinths.

Kern H. Through the Labyrinth – Designs and Meanings over 5,000 Years. Munich, London, New York: Prestel 2000.

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Sigmund Gossembrot / 6

The Complex Labyrinth

On folio 54 r, finally, is depicted the complex labyrinth shown in figure 1 (see also: related posts, below). In it’s center is written: „laborintus melior inter priores aquia magis errabunda inducens et educens“ – this labyrinth is better than the previous ones, as it is more misleading, leading in and out. This labyrinth has 12 circuits and its’ turns of the pathway are arranged in a confusing order. The number of arms cannot be easily counted.

Figure 1. The Complex Labyrinth on Folio 54 r

The pathway enters the labyrinth from below on the first (outermost) circuit (fig. 2). There it first bifurcates, and one can follow it in both rotational directions (clockwise or anticlockwise). On top of this circuit deviates another piece of the pathway. This then leads further into the labyrinth. Thus, the outermost circuit is designed not unicursally but multicursally as a maze.

Figure 2. The Outermost Circuit

The outermost circuit can be removed (fig. 3). This brings us to an autonomous core-labyrinth with 11 circuits. Additional circuits, however, cannot be simply removed without destroying the core-labyrinth. The core-labyrinth has clearly recognizable a main axis that is oriented to the top and it rotates clockwise.

Figure 3. Core Labyrinth

For a further investigation (in fig. 4) we now rotate the labyrinth, such that the main axis points to the bottom. By this, the labyrinth presents itself in the form we always use as a baseline. The main axis (in a blue frame) has exactly the same shape as the one of the Chartres type labyrinth. The other turns of the pathway are arbitrarily distributed over about the upper 2/3 of the area.

Figure 4. Main Axis

However, in view of the shape of the main axis the idea suggests itself, that also the remaining turns of the pathway could have something to do with the Chartres type. Indeed, three areas can be easily identified (fig. 5). The turns of the pathway inside these trapezoidal areas (red) can be aligned axially.

Figure 5. Side Arms

For this purpose, they need to be shifted along their circuits. Two turns of the path (the innermost of the 1st and 2nd side-arm are almost already in their right place. This is shown in fig. 6. The other ones need to be shifted further. This is illustrated with the red circles and arrows. In their new alignment they indeed result in a Chartres type labyrinth.

Figure 6. Type Chartres

Considered the other way round, we can state, that Gossembrot has derived a multicursal maze from the Chartres type labyrinth. For this, he has dispersed the regular order by shifting the turns of the pathway away from the side-arms and arbitrarily distributing them over the area of the labyrinth. Then he has attached a further circuit at the outside and on this circuit has introduced a multicursal course of the pathway.

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Sigmund Gossembrot / 5

The Two One-arm Labyrinths

Among the nine drawings by Gossembrot are also two one-arm labyrinths (see related posts, below).

The labyrinth on fol. 53 r has 9 circuits (fig. 1). In the center is written: inducens et educens, leading in and leading out. The design of the axis with it’s rhombus shape is eye-catching.
This almost looks a bit like an anticipation of the Knidos style… Furthermore, this is a non-alternating labyrinth. The pathway traverses the axis when changing from the 6th to the 9th circuit. I have highlighted this position in the labyrinth with two dashed red lines. To these correspond the dashed lines in the pattern. This pattern appears for the first time in the labyrinth by Gossembrot. Therefore it is a type of it’s own. I refer to it as type Gossembrot 53 r.

Figure 1. The Labyrinth on Folio 53 r

The labyrinth on fol. 54 v has 11 circuits and is designed in the concentric style (fig. 2). This type of labyrinth is also referred to as the scaled-up basic type or scaled-up classical / Cretan type of labyrinth. This, because the seed pattern in the classical style consists of a central cross with two nested angles and a coaxial bullet point between each two arms of the cross. The seed pattern of the basic type is made-up of a central cross with one angle and bullet point between each two arms of the cross.

Figure 2. The Labyrinth on Folio 54 v

There exist several historical examples of this type of labyrinth. The two earliest examples (fig. 3) are frescos in the church of Hesselager, Fünen, Denmark and in the church of Sibbo, Finnland (see literature, below).

Figure 3. Earliest Historical Examples (15 th Century)

Both were dated from the 15 th century without any further precision. Also, Gossembrot 54 v dates from the 15 th century (1480). Therefore, based on the dating, it is not possible to certainly identify the earliest preserved example of this type of labyrinth. So it is even conceivable, that the drawing by Gossembrot is earliest and thus Gossembrot was also the originator of this type of labyrinth.

Kern H. Through the Labyrinth – Designs and Meanings over 5000 Years. München, London, New York: Prestel 2000. P. 280, fig. 593; p. 281, fig. 601.

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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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Further links