I was reading the preface of the book “Decorative Ornaments and Alphabets of the Renaissance” by Henry Lewis Johnson:
“…The increasing use of devices, trade marks, borders, and decorations create a wide interest which can be met only by going back to the greatest sources which are afforded by the Renaissance. It has been possible to photo-engrave many prints of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in clear, fine details; others show the defects of early printing as no attempt has been made to redraw the originals.”
And here I am three years after I started the Illuminated Manuscripts project and many years after Henry Lewis Johnson wrote this preface finishing up the edition of 3 new volumes on borders and illuminated initials dedicated to the High Renaissance Art. This period coincides with the beginning of the diffusion of the modern structured books printing; the years are the end of the fifteenth century and the sixteenth century.
It was the beginning of a new art. Woodcuts and engravings of frontispieces, title pages, page borders, chapter headers, capital initial letters and printer’s devices were needed for this new fast growing craft.
Hans Holbein, Albrecht Durer (Duerer or Dürer), Lucas Cranach the Elder and many other famous artists accepted commissions to create similar artwork. The invention of the printing press did not immediately do away with manuscript writing and illuminating; books were also printed before the end of the fifteenth century, but they looked pretty much like the ones copied by hand. Woodcut blocks existed before the invention of the printing press, but it was their use in printing that created a huge demand for the services of woodcutters and then engravers; the blocks could be locked into the forme together with the type and printed in the same process.
The blocks were typically made of a plank; fine grain wood such as beech, apple, or pear was used. The spaces that were to remain white were cut away with knives and burins; blocks functioned in the same manner as the characters: the relief surface received the ink and produced the image on the paper. Some of these Title Pages and Illuminated Initials were cut on metal, the most common being dotted in the “manière criblée”.
Rapidly presses were functioning in most of the countries of Western Europe. Printers tended to establish in large urban centers where there were scholars, ecclesiastics, lawyers and nobles who formed their major customer-base. Works in Latin formed the bulk of the earliest printing, but as books became cheaper, works in the various vernaculars (or translations of standard works) began to appear. Often the printer was also the artist and the engraver, the calligrapher and the bookseller. Many of those early printers and the artists and engravers that produced the printing blocks for them reached a high level of quality.
Among them Geoffroy Tory, Jean le Royer, Joannem et Gregorium de Gregorii, Jean de Tournes, Henri Estienne, Michel Vascosan, Oronce Fine, Simon de Colines, Florio Vasassore, Jocopo Mazocchi, Iosephum de Angelis, Theodorus and John de Bry, Erhart Ratdolt, Bernardus Pictor, Hans Burgmair, Gabrielle Giolito, Lazzaro Soardi, Virgile Solis, Hans Holbein, Jost Bade (Jodocus Badius Ascensius or Johann Badius), Daniel Hopfer, Johann Miller, Johann Wechtlin, Matthias Schürer, Johann Stüchs, Hieronymus Hölzel, Sylvan Othmar, Urs Graf, Johann Froben, Melchior Lotter, Christoph Schweitzer, Andreas Gessner, Jost Amman, Sigmund Feyerabend, Jean de Tournes, Salomon Bernard, Denis Janot, and many, many others.
Many of their borders and illuminated capitals have been reproduced and used for centuries up to today.
While the appearance changed little in the transition from manuscript to the first printed book, the trade itself was radically transformed. Naturally many scribes were no longer needed for book production and some became printers. Decorators, illuminators, and painters continued to find employment for some time as hand painted decorations and illuminated capital letters continued to be added to some printed books into the sixteenth century. As mentioned above the first printed books did not differ too much from the manuscripts, usually the first page was left blank to protect the text. The information about the book and the makers was in the colophon at the end of the book.
The half-title pages containing title and perhaps author as well as the printer devise in the first left page starts to appear by the 1480s. These half-title pages also contained some information about the content of the book, as a customer could quickly see what the book was about. However a truly complete title page did not appear until the beginning of the sixteenth century.
The title page with the border, all the information, the date and the printer devise is the product of the sixteenth century. Same as are the pagination, the index and the table of content.
The books printed before 1501 are also call Incunabula or Incunabulum; the first recorded use of "incunabula" as a printing term is in a pamphlet by Bernard von Mallinckrodt, De ortu et progressu artis typographicae ("Of the rise and progress of the typographic art"), published in Cologne in 1639, which includes the phrase "prima typographicae incunabula", "the first infancy of printing".
There are two types of incunabula: the xylographic incunabula (made from a single carved or sculpted block for each page) and the typographicincunabula (made with movable type on a printing press in the style of Johann Gutenberg).
Famous incunabula include the Gutenberg Bible of 1455 and the Liber chronicarum of Hartmann Schedel, printed by Anton Koberger in 1493. Other well-known incunabula printers were Albrecht Pfister of Bamberg, Günther Zainer of Augsburg, Johann Mentelin of Strasburg and William Caxton of Bruges and London.
The count of editions and titles issued before 1500 runs into thousands, and the most authoritative listing is in the German catalogue, the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke which is still being compiled at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. The British Library has compiled the Incunabula Short-Title Catalogue, which includes the holdings of most libraries worldwide.
The largest collections, with the approximate numbers of incunabula held, include:
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich (18,550)
British Library (12,500)
Bibliotheque Nationale de France (12,000)
Vatican Library (8,000)
Oesterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna (8,000)
Stuttgart Landesbibliothek (7,000)
Huntington Library (5,600)
Library of Congress (5,600)
Bodleian Library (5,500)
Cambridge University Library (4,600)
John Rylands Library (4,500)
Harvard University (3,600)
Yale University (Beinecke 3,100)
Koninklijke Bibliotheek (2,000)
Henry Lewis Johnson continues:
“…The wealth of Renaissance designs, in panels, vignettes, and initials can be drawn upon for motives which combine most admirably with the rigidity of types. Such effects in printing are today a necessary offset to the grayed out pages in which half-tones and light types so largely predominate.
… it is hoped that this compilation, which at best is only representative of a great period, will serve to turn attention to the study of the work of the early masters of the printing. Without the influence of this study much printing of today is impoverished and inadequate to this opportunities.”
HENRY LEWIS JOHNSON
Boston, Massachusetts - September, 1923
Reprint by DOVER PUBLICATIONS, INC., NEW YORK
AlfredoM Graphic Arts Studio - Clip Art of Medieval & Renaissance Illuminated Mauscripts borders, illuminated initial letters in vector format.
Each decorative image and element has been meticulously hand-drawn by AlfredoM in vector format.
Resolution independent vector graphics insures high quality reproduction at any size, allowing also complete latitude for modification of each graphic element. Many advanced designers will find the inclusion of the vector file versions on this CD a very desirable feature.
The collection also includes versions of the more common pixel-based file formats, some of them used in web graphics.