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Biblia pauperum

  • Object:

    Print

  • Place of origin:

    Netherlands (possibly, printed)
    Great Britain (possibly?, bookbinding)

  • Date:

    ca. 1465 (printed)
    late 19th century - early 20th century? (bookbinding)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Woodcut on paper in morocco leather binding, blind stamped

  • Credit Line:

    Bought under the terms of the Murray Bequest

  • Museum number:

    E.689-1918

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64, The Wolfson Gallery, case 4

This page shows scenes from the New Testament flanked by parallel scenes from the Old Testament, with quotations at the top and bottom of the page from the Prophets. It comes from a block-book called the 'Biblia Pauperum' (Pauper's Bible). This name has been given to books which tell the story of the redemption of man by Christ, set against prophecies and prefigurations from the Old Testament.

Each page of a block-book, text and images, was carved from a single wood-block. The method was very laborious as the maker carved each line and letter out of the wood, cutting away the background. To make the print, paper was rubbed over the inked block from above.

Block-books were first made around 1430 and co-existed for decades with books printed with movable type (invented about 1450). This method was economical for very popular works because the block could print large numbers without expensive apparatus such as printing press or type.

Biblia Pauperum is a misleading name because the arrangement of texts explaining the images’ relationship to each other suggests an educated and pious readership. The book may have been intended for the poor clergy or as an aid for personal meditation.

Biblia Pauperum is thought to have been originally composed around the mid-13th century in the region that is now Austria and Southern Germany, evidence suggests, in monastic circles. More than 80 surviving manuscript versions have been identified (some in fragments), dating from around 1300 to the late 15th century.

Physical description

Page taken from a block book, inlaid and bound in a brown morocco leather binding, blind-tooled with all-over diamond pattern.

In three horizontal compartments, the central compartment split into three vertically.

In the central horizontal compartment a scene from the life of Christ, The Presentation at the Temple, is flanked on each side by a scene from the Old Testament: Law of Presentation on the left, and Anna Presents Samuel on the right.

In the centres of the top and bottom registers, four prophets wearing elaborate costumes and head-dresses sit beneath architectural archways (two above and two below). Speech scrolls contain quotations from the prophets. Clockwise from top left they are David, Malachias, Sophonias and Zacharias.

In the top horizontal compartment the two prophets are flanked either side by text explaining the connection between each of the two outer images and the central image. In the bottom horizontal compartment on either side of prophets are 'tituli', which serve as titles to the three main images. All text is in Latin.

Place of Origin

Netherlands (possibly, printed)
Great Britain (possibly?, bookbinding)

Date

ca. 1465 (printed)
late 19th century - early 20th century? (bookbinding)

Artist/maker

Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Woodcut on paper in morocco leather binding, blind stamped

Marks and inscriptions

The firstborn child is presented in order to be bought back
Titulus, below left image in central horizontal compartment

The Virgin, making an offering to Simeon, receives back Christ himself
Titulus, bottom centre, below prophets but referring to central image of central horizontal compartment

This Samuel denotes Christ himself offered
Titulus, below right image in central horizontal compartment

David / The Lord is in his holy temple
In frame below prophet /
Scroll coming from top left prophet

Malachias iii / The ruler whom you seek shall come to his holy temple
In frame below prophet /
Scroll coming from top right prophet

Sophonias iii / The king of Israel, the Lord, is among you
Scroll coming from bottom right prophet

Zacharias ii / See, I am coming and shall live among you
Scroll coming from bottom left prophet

According to Leviticus xii, every woman bearing a firstborn must buy him back with a sheep; the poor, however, who would have no sheep, were obliged to offer two turtle-doves or two young pigeons for the boy; and this was for purification. The glorious Virgin carried this out although she did not need to be purified
Top left

According to 1 Kings i 12-25, Anna the mother of Samuel, weaning this Samuel, offered him to Heli the prist in the temple of God. This offering prefigured the presentation of God to Simeon in the temple
Top right

[two different watermarks in volume:

Bulls Head with cross(?- not very clear). Closest in appearance in Briquet is 15080

Gothic P. Closest in shape of its cross bars is 8730 in Briquet]

Dimensions

Height: 26.6 cm original cut to, Width: 19.7 cm original cut to, Height: 28 cm inlaid onto page of size, Width: 21 cm inlaid onto page of size

Object history note

Previous owner: Lieut. Lord Vernon, R.N., Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire.

Historical significance: A block-book is a book where each page or double page spread, both text and images, is printed entirely from one wood block. The method of preparation of the block was very laborious. The maker had to cut each letter individually in the wood so only very popular works, such as summaries of the Bible, were printed in this way. Nevertheless, blockbooks' production as woodblocks enabled them to be printed in large numbers. The blockbooks were produced ca.1460 probably in Utrecht or Haarlem. Few were published after 1500. Versions were also printed using movable type. The contents derive from manuscript versions, which were popular in the Middle Ages, from late thirteenth century, and possibly even the late twelfth.

Biblia Pauperum is a name (misnomer accepted since Heinecken first used it in print in 1769) given to books which tell the story of the redemption of man by Christ, set against prophecies and prefigurations from the Old Testament. It is thought to have been originally composed around the mid-13th century in the region that is now Austria and Southern Germany, evidence suggests, in monastic circles. More than 80 surviving manuscript versions have been identified (some in fragments), dating from around 1300 to the late 15th century.

Editions were also printed in blockbooks and moveable type. The blockbook consists of forty full-page illustrations united by an architectural frame. The pages are printed on one side only but these are paired so that they form double page openings.

In illustrated versions of the Biblia Pauperum, scenes from important events in the New Testament (from the life of Christ or the Second Coming) are set together with four bust-length portraits of prophets and the texts of their prophecies that refer to the main event, as well as two narrative events from the Old Testament that prefigure the main event (except the last page which shows a scene from 'Revelations'). The text on each page consists of internally rhymed captions, called tituli, below the three pictures, the quotations from the four prophets appear as scrolls, and there are also exegeses of the two prefiguring scenes on either side of the central image.

"Typology is rooted in textuality and the literal meaning of Scripture and thus cannot have been intended for an unlettered audience. Sometimes the reader is required to remember or make reference to the scriptures. Allegory is included in the imagery and even parallel arrangement of people and objects in the images or is spelled out in the exegeses. Most of the tituli tell the story of the types. The exegeses do too, but also tell how the types relate to the antitype."

"It is probably not coincidental that the blockbook versions of the Bibla Pauperum appeared around the same time that numerous treatises on the Art of Memory were also published, whether with woodcuts or movable type. New technologies of communication are often used at first to amplify old patterns of thought. Understood in this way, early print culture and especially blockbook culture initially reinforced the interaction of oral and literate strategies that characterised the later Middle Ages. Thus the blockbook, which, like the printing press, was an innovation in the production of writing, was also a final, complex elaboration of medieval conceptual strategies."

"The manuscript version of the Biblia Pauperum is the earliest illustrated book of typology and in both its manuscript and blockbook forms the book had a profound and enduring effect on the typological tradition. Typology is fundamental to this book. Typology in this context (it is sometimes used more broadly) is a habitual strategy of thought or conceptual composition, which shows how people or events in the Old Testament (called the types) prefigure and are fulfilled by people or events in the Gospels (the antitypes). Typological prefiguration was closely associated with Christianity from its beginnings, and it greatly proliferated in the twelfth century. Along with typology, the types and antitypes are frequently portrayed with visual analogues; some individual images have allegorical content and the power of symbolic objects appear in several scenes. Thus allegory and symbolism interconnect in this work."

all quotations taken from (Nellhaus, Tobin. 'Mementos of Things to Come: Orality, Literacy, and Typology in the Biblia Pauperum' in Hindman, Sandra. Printing the Written Word: The Social History of Books, circa 1450-1520. London, 1991.

Historical context note

see
Henry, Avril. Biblia Pauperum. Scolar, 1987, p. 55 for more in-depth analysis.
Nellhaus, Tobin. 'Mementos of Things to Come: Orality, Literacy, and Typology in the Biblia Pauperum' in Hindman, Sandra. Printing the Written Word: The Social History of Books, circa 1450-1520. London, 1991.

Descriptive line

Page from a block book called a Biblia Pauperum; Germany; ca 1460; woodcut

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Schreiber, W.L. Manuel de l'amateur de la gravure sur bois et sur métal au XVe siècle. 1902. Vol. IV. Groupe IV, No. 10.
Henry, Avril. Biblia Pauperum. Scolar, 1987.
Nellhaus, Tobin. 'Mementos of Things to Come: Orality, Literacy, and Typology in the Biblia Pauperum' in Hindman, Sandra. Printing the Written Word: The Social History of Books, circa 1450-1520. London, 1991, pp. 292-321.
Henry, Avril. 'The forty-page blockbook Biblia Pauperum: Schreiber Editions I and VIII Reconsidered', in Oud Holland. Vol. 95, No. 3 (1981), pp. 127-50.
Sothebys. A choice selected portion of the famous library removed from Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire, including illuminated and other manuscripts, and rare printed books, the property of Lieut. Lord Vernon, R.N. London, p. 12, no. 69.
Briquet, C.-M. (Charles-Moïse). Les filigranes. Dictionnaire historique des marques du papier des leur apparition vers 1282 jusqu'en 1600, avec 39 figures dans le texte et 16, 112 facsimilés de filigranes. Paris: A. Picard & fils; Genève: A. Jullien, 1907.
Blockbücher des Mittelalters: Bilderfolgen als Lektüre. Herausgegeben von Gutenberg-Gesellschaft und Gutenberg-Museum. Exhibition 22 June-1 September 1991. Mainz, Gutenberg-Museum, 1991.
Sotheby, Samuel Leigh. Principia typographica. The Block-Books, Xylographic Delineations of Scripture History, issued in Holland, Flanders, and Germany, during the Fifteenth Century. Exempliofied and Considered in Connexion with the Origin of Printing. London, 1858. 3 Vols. Vol. 3, Plates P and T

Labels and date

Block books are made up of sheets printed entirely from wood blocks, on which both text and the illustrations have been cut. Curiously enough they do not appear to have been produced before the invention of movable type. None of the existing examples can be dated before about 1460. Being a very laborious method, each letter being cut individually in the wood, only very popular works such as this compendium of the Bible were printed in this way. Few block Books were published after c. 1500

Printmaking Techniques Gallery in the Henry Cole Wing [1983]

Production Note

Edition belongs to Groupe IV, No. 10 in Schreiber (see references). Weimar Group (i.e. edition XI)- see Renate Kroll's essay p289-310 in Blockbücher des Mittlealters (see references) discussing reengraving of plates 29 and 30.

Subjects depicted

Speech scrolls; Temples; Costume; Headdresses; Architectural frame; Women; Children; Prophets; Hats; Priests; Interiors (religious)

Categories

Books; Christianity; Religion; Images Online; Prints; Architectural fittings; Designs; Printmaking techniques

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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