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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.714-1918

  • 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 Resurrection, is flanked on each side by a scene from the Old Testament: Samson carrying away the gates of Gaza on the left, and Jonas and the Whale 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, a quote from Genesis, Sophonias and Osee.

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

Surrounded by many people Samson carries away the gates of the city
Titulus, below left image in central horizontal compartment

Jesus, whom the huge stone covered, leaves the tomb
Titulus, bottom centre, below prophets but referring to central image of central horizontal compartment

This man denotes you rising out of the tomb O Christ
Titulus, below right image in central horizontal compartment

David / The Lord of the house was woken as if from sleep
In frame below prophet /
Scroll coming from top left prophet

Genesis xlix / Judah is a lion cub; my son
In frame below prophet /
Scroll coming from top right prophet

Sophonias iii / On the day of my resurrection I shall gather the gentiles
Scroll coming from bottom right prophet

Osee vi / On the third day he shall raise up; we shall know and follow him
Scroll coming from bottom left prophet

According to Judges xvi, 2-3, Samson got up in the middle of the night and by sheer strength tore down both the bronze gates of the city, and carried them out of the city with him. Samson signifies Christ, who rising from the tomb in the middle of the night, threw down the gates of the tomb, and free and strong left the place
Top left

According to the Book of Jonas the Prophet ii, II, when Jonas had been in the belly of the sea-beast for three days and three nights, the fish threw him up on dry land. Jonas, who came out of the fish after three days, signifies Christ, who after three days left the tomb, that is to say, rose from the dead
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: 26.2 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 in reverse so only very popular works, such as summaries of the Bible, were printed in this way. The nature of blockbooks as printed from woodblocks enabled them to be printed in large numbers. Blockbooks were produced ca.1460 probably in Utrecht or Haarlem. Few were published after 1500.

Biblia Pauperum is a name (in fact a 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 (as some have claimed) 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. (quotes from Nellhaus, Tobin, pp. 296-297.)

"It is probably not coincidental that the blockbook versions of the Biblia 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." (Nellhaus, Tobin, p. 321.)

"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 in fact absolutely fundamental to the Biblia Pauperum: it is virtually the book's sole principle of composition." (Nellhaus, Tobin, p. 294)

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 (the types) prefigure and are fulfilled by people or events in the Gospels (the antitypes). Historically, 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". (Nellhaus, Tobin, p. 296) Thus, allegory and symbolism interconnect in this work.

quotations 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, pp. 292-321.

Historical context note

See Williamson, Paul. Netherlandish sculpture 1450-1550. London: V&A Publications, 2002, p. 74, figs 16 and 16a.
A.9-1925 derived from 'Creation of Eve' in Biblia Pauperum E.711-1918.
'The version of the Biblia Pauperum from which the scene illustrated here is taken was made in about 1460, probably in the North Netherlands, and proved extremely influential as a model for works in other media.'
Refers readers to Henry, Avril. Biblia Pauperum. Scolar, 1987, p. 35-38.

see
Henry, Avril. Biblia Pauperum. Scolar, 1987, p. 106 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.

From Henry, Avril. Biblia Pauperum. Scolar, 1987, p. 106.
The Resurrection (Matthew xxviii, 1-10)
The major theme is the overcoming of adversity followed by emergence from imprisonment. The minor theme is ascent to God. Samson is a type of Christ's single-handed power. Both escape from many enemies (Christ's in hell and on earth around the tomb); both move from metaphorical as well as literal darkness; both force gates; Samson's climbing the mountain, on which we see his feet carefully set, prefigures the Ascension.
There is a mountain too behind Jonas, where we might expect to see Nineve as a kind of visual antithesis to Gaza. This mountain, traditional retreat for prayer, suggests Jonas's personal goal rather than his immediate destination as a prophet: it complements his gesture of prayer. In the design of the whole page, Samson's ascent and Jonas's gesture lead to Christ. Jonas escapes not by human strength but by prayer, resulting in God's 'speaking to the fish' so that he throws him up. Christ, echoing both Samson and Jonas, escapes his own and his father's power. Christ is called the lion-cub because, the Bestiary tells us, a new-born lion sleeps for three days until woken to full life by the roaring of his sire. That Jonas is thrown up suggests not only that hell could not contain Christ, but also that his mission does not end with the Resurrection: it continues, bringing us, as Jonas brought to Ninivites, to repentance. Jonas's nakedness even underlines the special nature of Christ's risen body, wounded but unbleeding, newly stripped of human weakness. The uncomprehending group of soldiers round the tomb represents their blindness to Christ, whose brightness they cannot tolerate.
The two lower prophecies point not to the manner but to the meaning of the Resurrection. Spiritual death, to which mankind has been subject since the Fall, is conquered: Christ shows us that physical death may be overcome at the general resurrection. Such is the power of this double victory that all races will then unite.

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]
BLOCKBOOK BIBLE FOR THE POOR
(BIBLIA PAUPERUM)
About 1465

Each page in a blockbook was printed from a single woodblock, a method that was used for works in high demand. Although this book is called a 'bible for the poor', the complex format - with scenes from Christ's life paralleled by ones from the Old Testament, along with an explanatory text - suggests an educated, well-off readership.

Germany or the Netherlands
Woodcut on paper
Bought under the terms of the Murray Bequest

Museum nos.
E.686 to 725-1918

[Medieval and Renaissance Galleries] []

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. This is one of the reengraved plates (plate 29).

Subjects depicted

Gates; Tomb; City; Landscape; Halo; Cross; Headdresses; Armour; Architectural frame; Costume; Speech scrolls; Tree; Hats; Soldiers; Prophets; Banner of the Resurrection; Spear; Whale

Categories

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

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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