Humanism and Reformation
One of the topics dealt with here is Humanist literature, such as books by Erasmus, for example. The section includes Sebastian Brant’s “Narrenschiff” (“Ship of Fools”, 1506), with woodcuts probably executed in part by a young Albrecht Dürer, and the first edition of Sir Thomas More’s “Utopia” from 1518. The title of the latter work introduced the word “Utopia” to common speech.
"Theuerdank" (1517), a romantic novel of knights and chivalry, was inspired by a young Emperor Maximilian I wanting to set himself a poetic memorial. At the time the work was (and still is) considered to be of great bibliophile beauty. Black letter type was used here for the first time, embroidered with elaborate, almost calligraphic swirls.
Another showcase is dedicated to the Reformation writings of Martin Luther. Next to the small, worn philippics lie the large-format editions of his translation of the Bible, illustrated with woodcuts. Luther’s clear, concise form of expression did much to help standardise the German language.
Discovering the World
Another impressive group of books are the scientific works. One particularly fine creation is “Astronomicum Caesareum”, a book on astronomy written for Emperor Karl V and produced by Peter Apian in 1540 in Ingolstadt. By turning the paper dials attached in the centre by a piece of string the reader can easily reconstruct all the conceivable constellations of the stars and planets.
Andreas Vesalius’s “Anatomie” (1555) depicts the bones, muscles and internal organs of the human body in almost theatrical arrangements.
Copper Engraving and Etching
In the centre of the room the technique of copper engraving for graphics is explained. In the course of the 16th century, copper engravings gradually replaced woodcuts in books as the main form of illustration. Looking at the two scaled-down models of copper intaglio presses, at the chisels and other tools, it is easy to imagine how laborious the work of the copper engraver must have been.
The Passionate Collectors of the Baroque
The Thirty Years’ War brought a temporary stop to book production in the areas it devastated; once over, Baroque rulers were free to unleash their passion for collecting artefacts of any kind, books included. Important libraries were started in Munich and Wolfenbüttel, for example. A new sales niche appeared for the book, with the first auction of books held in Leiden in 1604.
Printing became a commodity literally fit for a king; Louis XV started the Imprimérie du Cabinet du Roi at his court in Versailles. The books of the Baroque reflect the interests of the day; they report new scientific discoveries, spread new religious and political ideas and present belletristic literature in volumes embellished with fancy copper engravings. The thirst for discovery of the late 16th and 17th centuries, the colonisation of far-off regions and the boom in trade with lands overseas prompted the publication of a number of representative geographic works. This was the period which produced atlases and important collections of views of towns and cities.
When in the 18th century the Age of the Enlightenment brought about a change in the natural sciences with its efforts to observe with objectivity and order, the number of books on botany, zoology and mathematics and geometry greatly increased. Even topics such as mesmerism (magnetic suggestion) and physiognomy, whose scientific nature we now challenge, provided material for various theses.
The Joy of the Craze for Reading
The Enlightenment also inspired a bourgeois form of belletristic literature with which we associate the names of authors like Klopstock, Lessing, Schiller and Goethe. These works were often issued in small-format editions or “pocket books” which the reader could carry around with him or her.
Encyclopédie de Diderot and d’Alembert
Another product typical of the Enlightenment is the encyclopaedia. In 1751 Diderot and d’Alembert began publishing the 35 volumes of their “Encyclopédie”, the most famous of its kind, in which the professions of man are introduced in copper plates and descriptions. A steadily increasing number of weekly and monthly magazines provided the reading faction of the population with entertainment and information. The public was thus slowly able to start forming its own opinion on various general matters of interest and importance. The number of readers continued to grow, causing people to warn each other of the rampant “reading craze”.