Inside the Milberg Gallery: Illumination

Posted: Wednesday, 2 October 2019 - 4:38pm

Scheide Library’s Gutenberg Bible

Gutenberg Bible of 1455 held in the Scheide Library.

This series highlights collections included in the "Gutenberg & After: Europe's First Printers 1450-1470" exhibition, now open through Dec. 15 (daily, noon to 6 p.m.) in the Ellen and Leonard Milberg Gallery. To follow is a note from Eric White, Curator of Rare Books: 

The 15th-century books gathered in “Gutenberg & After” provide remarkably rich opportunities to study many aspects of book history: typography, bookbinding, woodcut and metalcut illustration, hand illumination, and the history of use and ownership.

Fifteenth-century book production envisioned major textual sections to be differentiated by enlarged inset initials with spaces for short headings, called rubrics. Scribes, and later printers, designed the layout accordingly, with empty spaces left for the initials and rubrics, which would be filled in later by hand, either in red (and often blue) ink, or, if desired, more elaborately with gold and colors. Whereas the simple “rubrication” of books was necessary to make the earliest printed books legible and useful, “illumination” in gold-leaf with multi-colored elaboration was a luxury.

Illumination of printed books is documented from the earliest period of European typography. On August 23, 1456, Heinrich Cremer, canon of Mainz, proudly inscribed the final leaf of Psalms in a Gutenberg Bible (now in Paris), informing the reader that he had “illuminated, rubricated, and bound” the volume, having finished the second volume one week earlier. Many of the surviving Gutenberg Bibles were illuminated outside of Mainz, and their varying styles of decoration tell us much about the early distribution of copies across northern Europe. The Scheide Library’s Gutenberg Bible, for example, was beautifully illuminated in Erfurt, Germany, where it was bound in the workshop of Johann Fogel. Similar Erfurt illumination also enhances copies in the British Library, Eton College, and the Hessische Landesbibliothek in Fulda.

Scheide Library’s Gutenberg Bible of 1462

Fust & Schoeffer Bible of 1462 held in the Scheide Library.

Other books in the “Gutenberg & After” exhibition feature noteworthy illumination. The Morgan Library & Museum’s Constitutiones of Clement V, printed in Mainz by Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer in 1460, clearly traveled to Italy, where it was illuminated with a bust-length portrait of the pope, with an unidentified Italian coat-of-arms below. The Scheide Library’s Latin Bible of 1462 and the Morgan Library’s Cicero, De Officiis of 1465, both printed by Fust and Schoeffer, were illuminated by a remarkably skillful artisan known as the “Fust Master.” He appears to have worked on quantities of books while in Fust’s employ in Mainz. The Scheide Library’s Cicero, De Officiis of 1466 offers an interesting contrast, as it was illuminated in the Parisian style.

As the exhibition shifts its focus to the spread of printing beyond Mainz, visitors encounter new centers of illumination. The Strasbourg printer Johann Mentelin’s Latin Bible of ca. 1460 and his German Bible of 1466 (both from the Scheide Library) exhibit illumination in two distinct styles. That of the Latin Bible, featuring remarkably lively birds, has not been localized precisely, but is probably Alsatian work, not far from Strasbourg. The German Bible, previously owned by Klosterneuburg near Vienna, is typical Austrian work. A different Austrian style, attributable to one of the leading illuminators of the period, Ulrich Schreier, enhances the Morgan Library’s copy of St Augustine’s De Civitate Dei, printed in 1467 by Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz in the monastery of Subiaco, forty miles east of Rome.

Scheide Library's Mentelin Latin Bible ca. 1460

Mentelin Bible of ca. 1460 held in the Scheide Library.

Princeton University Library's Virgil of 1470

Virgil's Opera of 1470 held in Princeton University Library.

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Italian illumination in a style known as “bianchi girari” (spiraling white vines) graces four books in the exhibition, including Princeton’s copy of the first edition of Virgil’s Opera (Rome: Sweynheym & Pannartz, ca. 1469) and the Scheide copy of the first edition of Dante’s Commedia (Foligno: Johann Neumeister and Evangelista, 11 April 1472). Perhaps the most spectacular illumination among the Italian books is found in Princeton’s vellum copy of Virgil’s Opera, printed in Venice by Vindelinus de Spira in 1470, which opens with a richly illuminated full border incorporating putti, urns, garlands, and other antique motifs. This skillful work is ascribed to the miniaturist Franco dei Russi of Mantua, active in Venice in 1471–1472.
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As printing developed rapidly during the 1470s, less expensive alternatives for the finishing of books became the norm. Woodcut initials began to replace the blank spaces left completion by hand, and typographic headings gradually reduced the necessity for rubrication. Nevertheless, those who had illuminated manuscripts before the mid-1450s continued to find work for patrons with a taste for brilliantly colored luxury books, whether handwritten or printed.
 

Note: The Gutenberg & After exhibition is featured online at dpul.princeton.edu.

Media contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications