The Gutenberg Museum has a number of major works from the early years of printing on permanent display. Books printed up to 1500 differ in many ways from the books we are familiar with from later years. These early examples have no title page, chapter headings or page numbers. What they do have are pages of beautiful illumination and illustration.
Visitors will notice that the protagonists of first few decades of the printed book often still clung to the traditional forms of the manuscript. The characteristics of the modern book emerged only gradually through fierce competition among printers, dependent on selling their books to be able to continue business, and through technical innovation in the printing of pictures.
The colophon, an inscription bearing the place and year of publication and often also the printing workshop (our modern equivalent is “book credits”), wandered from the back to the front of the book, where these facts and the contents of the book were more effectively advertised. A standardised title page was soon developed.
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.
The Most Beautiful Book of the Renaissance
Francesco Colonna’s “Hypnerotomachia Poliphilis” (“Poliphilus’s Dream”) is without exception considered one of the most beautiful books of the 15th century. The book contains woodcuts in the style of the Italian Renaissance which harmonise perfectly with the typography. The book was published by Venetian Aldus Manutius at his officina in 1492.
Some of the text is arranged in the shape of a vase, heart or triangle, which enhances the decorative nature of the pages.