The Mainz Psalter - Pictures in Books
It wasn’t until the 1460s that woodcuts were included in printed books. Printing type matter and woodcuts side by side in the printing press was initially a difficult feat to master. Printing in more than one colour, a distinguishing feature of the two editions of the Mainz Psalter from 1457 and 1459, was discarded, as the process proved too time-consuming. The Psalter, on view in the museum treasury, is nevertheless an aesthetic highlight of the early years of printing – as is the Gutenberg Bible.
A Puzzling Book
Johannes Balbus’s “Catholicon”, a lexicon of the foreign words in the Bible, also deserves special attention. The smallness of the type allowed a large amount of text to be printed per page and illustrates what the punch cutters and type founders of the time were already capable of. Yet the fact that this work was obviously printed in three different workshops using the same type matter is puzzling.
The museum is in possession of a double page from the 36-line Bible, printed in Bamberg not after 1461. The work was originally attributed to Gutenberg, as it is printed with one of the typefaces from his workshop. We now believe, however, that the inventor merely acted as a consultant in the printing of the Bible, either in Bamberg or Mainz.
German Bibles before Luther
Long before Martin Luther’s translation was complete there were Bibles printed in German, some of them lavishly illustrated. The Gutenberg Museum has several, including the 3rd German Bible by Jodocus Pflanzmann, Augsburg, c. 1475, the 5th by Johann Sensenschmidt, Nuremberg, c. 1473, the 8th by Anton Sorg, Augsburg, 1480, and the 10th in two volumes by Johann Grüninger in Strasbourg from 1485.
The “Reise ins Heilige Land” by Bernhard von Breydenbach, printed in Mainz in 1486, is an account of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It presents the more realistic view of the world people of the time came to hold, a view which is mirrored in the design and form of the book. Breydenbach had an artist accompany him, Erhard Reuwich, who brought back views of a number of cities on the Mediterranean, among them a large panorama of Venice. This woodcut, folded like a concertina, was printed from several formes; the paper had to be stuck together to fit the wide format of the picture.
Hartmann Schedel’s famous “Weltchronik”, printed at the large Koberger printing workshop in Nuremberg in 1493, chronicles the history of the world from its creation – according to the Bible – to the universe of Schedel’s day and age. The work contains a total of 645 woodcuts. The many cities they depict give an authentic view of how the traveller would have seen these places from afar. On closer inspection, however, one notices that in some cases the same wood block has been used for several of the cities!
A milestone in the art of maps, Cosmographia is an atlas after Ptolemy, printed by Lienhart Holle from woodcuts in 1482 in Ulm. The book is open at an extremely beautiful map of the world, coloured by hand. This atlas had two predecessors in Italy which betray early use of the more advanced technology of printing from copper plates.