Printing: Renaissance & Reformation

An Exhibit for History 101: European Civlization I

Introduction | Island 1 | Island 2 | Island 3 | Island 4 | Island 5 | Island 6

Island 2 - From Manuscript Codex to Printed Book

Ralph Higden, d. 1364
English manuscript on vellum, 15th century.

Higden, a Benedictine monk from Chester in England, wrote in his Polychronicon a universal history in Latin prose. This is a particularly fine manuscript book ("codex"), opened here to the elaborately-decorated illumination at the start of one of the work's five principal sections.

A late 15th century binding.

This book is a contemporary Venetian edition of the late fourteenth-century Oxford theologian Duns Scotus. The binding is of brown calfskin, blindstamped with heated, hand-engraved tools, and with the original brass clasps to keep it shut. Around 1500, it was in the library of Brasenose College, Oxford, from which it was presumably removed, along with most other medieval scholastic theology, during the Reformation.

Bartholomaeus Anglicus, fl. 13th c.
De proprietatibus rerum
Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 1483.

An interesting volume illustrating the way in which early books ("incunabula") imitated the appearance of medieval manuscripts. In this case the illumination (pictures and colored initial letters) were added by hand to a basic printed text. The book, a general treatise on the natural world, was written in the fourteenth century by an English Franciscan; the later translation into English by John of Trevisa was printed by Wynkyn de Worde, Caxton's successor as the leading London printer.


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