Alfred W. (Alfred William) Pollard.

Early illustrated books: a history of the decoration and illustration of books in the 15th and 16th centuries; online

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* * * * *

_Books about Books_
_Edited by A. W. Pollard_

Illustrated Books


Illustrated Books

A History of the Decoration and
Illustration of Books in the
15th and 16th Centuries

By Alfred W. Pollard


_Second Edition_

Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.
New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.

_First Edition, 1893_
_Second Edition, revised and corrected_
_May 1917_

_The rights of translation and of reproduction are reserved_


This little book was written nearly a quarter of a century ago in the
enthusiasm of a first acquaintance with a fascinating subject, and
with an honest endeavour to see for myself as many as possible of the
books I set out to describe. If I had tried to rewrite it now I might
have made it more interesting to experts, but at the cost of
destroying whatever merit it possesses as an introductory sketch. I
have therefore been content to correct, as thoroughly as I could, its
many small errors (not all of my own making), more especially those
due to the ascription of books to impossible dates and printers, which
before the publication of Robert Proctor's _Index to the Early Printed
Books in the British Museum_, in 1898, was very difficult to avoid. In
these emendations, and in getting the titles of foreign books into
better form, I have had much kind help from Mr. Victor Scholderer of
the British Museum. I am grateful also to Mr. E. Gordon Duff for his
leave to use again the chapter on English Illustrated Books which he
kindly wrote for me for the first edition.

A. W. P.










ITALY - I. 79


ITALY - II. 108










ENGLAND. By E. Gordon Duff 219





No point in the history of printing has been more rightly insisted on
than that the early printers were compelled to make the very utmost of
their new art in order to justify its right to exist. When a
generation had passed by, when the scribes trained in the first half
of the fifteenth century had died or given up the struggle, when
printing-presses had invaded the very monasteries themselves, and
clever boys no longer regarded penmanship as a possible profession,
then, but not till then, printers could afford to be careless, and
speedily began to avail themselves of their new license. In the early
days of the art no such license was possible, and the striking
similarity in the appearance of the printed books and manuscripts
produced contemporaneously in any given city or district, is the best
possible proof of the success with which the early printers competed
with the most expert of the professional scribes.

All this is trite enough, but we are somewhat less frequently
reminded that, after some magnificent experiments by Fust and
Schoeffer at Mainz, the earliest printers deliberately elected to do
battle at first with the scribes alone, and that in the fifteenth
century the scribes were very far, indeed, from being the only persons
engaged in the production of books. The subdivision of labour is not
by any means a modern invention; on the contrary, it is impossible to
read a list of the medieval guilds in any important town without being
struck with the minuteness of the sections into which some apparently
quite simple callings were split up. Of this subdivision of labour,
the complex art of book-production was naturally an instance. For a
proof of this, we need go no further than the records of the Guild of
St. John the Evangelist at Bruges, in which, according to Mr. Blades's
quotation of the extracts made by Van Praet, members of at least
fourteen branches of industry connected with the manufacture of books
joined together for common objects. In the fifteenth century a book of
devotions, commissioned by some wealthy book-lover, such as the Duke
of Bedford, might be written by one man, have its rubrics supplied by
another, its small initial letters and borders by a third, and then be
sent to some famous miniaturist in France or Flanders for final
completion. The scribe only supplied the groundwork, all the rest was
added by other hands, and it was only with the scribe that the early
printers competed.

The restriction of their efforts to competition with the scribe alone,
was not accepted by the first little group of printers until after
some fairly exhaustive experiments. The interesting trial leaves,
preserved in some copies of the 42-line Bible, differ from the rest
not only in having their text compressed into two lines less, but also
in having the rubrics printed instead of filled in by hand. Printing
in two colours still involves much extra labour, and it was easier to
supply the rubric by hand than to be at the pains of a second
impression, even if this could be effected by the comparatively simple
process of stamping. Except, therefore, in the trial leaves, the
rubrics of the first Bible are all in manuscript. Peter Schoeffer,
however, when he joined with the goldsmith Fust in the production of
the magnificent Mainz _Psalter_ of 1457, was not content to rely on
the help of illuminators for his rubrics and capitals, or, as the
disuse of the word majuscules makes it convenient to call them,
initial letters. Accordingly, the Psalter appeared not only with
printed rubrics, but with the magnificent B at the head of the first
psalm, which has so often been copied, and some two hundred and eighty
smaller initials, printed in blue and red.

Schoeffer's initial letters appear again in two editions of the _Canon
of the Mass_ attributed to 1458, in the _Psalter_ of 1459, in the
_Rationale_ of Durandus of the same year, and in a _Donatus_ printed
in the type of the 1462 Bible. As Mr. Duff has pointed out, in some
sheets of this Bible itself the red initial letters are printed and
the outline of the blue ones impressed in blank for the guidance of
the illuminator in filling them in. Thereafter Schoeffer seems to have
kept his initials for special occasions, as in the 35-line _Donatus_
issued _c._ 1468, perhaps when he was starting business for himself,
and in the antiquarian reprints of the _Psalter_ in and after 1490.
Doubtless he was sorry when he could no longer print in the colophon
of a book that it was 'venustate capitalium decoratus,
rubricationibusque sufficienter distinctus,' but while illuminators
were still plentiful, handwork was probably the least expensive
process of decoration. It is noteworthy, also, that Mr. Duff's
discovery as regards the 1462 Bible brings us down to the beginning of
those troublous three years in the history of Mainz, during which Fust
and Schoeffer only printed 'Bulls and other such ephemeral
publications.' When they resumed the printing of important works in
1465 with the _Decretals_ of Boniface VIII. and the _De Officiis_ of
Cicero, Schoeffer was content to leave decoration to the illuminator.
The firm's expenses were thus diminished, and purchasers were able to
economise in the amount of decoration bestowed upon the copy they were
buying. It is noteworthy, indeed, that even in 1459, when he was
habitually using his printed initial letters, Schoeffer did not refuse
customers this liberty, for while one of the copies of the _Rationale
Durandi_ at the Bibliothèque Nationale has the initials printed, in
the others they are illuminated by hand.

Very little attention has as yet been devoted to the study of the
illumination and rubrication of printed books, and much patient
investigation will be needed before we can attain any real knowledge
of the relation of the illuminators to the early printers. Professor
Middleton, in his work on _Illuminated Manuscripts_, had something to
say on the subject, but the pretty little picture he drew of a scene
in Gutenberg's (?) shop seems to have been rather hastily arrived at.
'The workshop,' he wrote, 'of an early printer included not only
compositors and printers, but also cutters and founders of type,
illuminators of borders and initials, and skilful binders, who could
cover books with various qualities and kinds of binding. A purchaser
in Gutenberg's shop, for example, of his magnificent Bible in loose
sheets, would then have been asked what style of illumination he was
prepared to pay for, and then what kind of binding, and how many brass
bosses and clasps he wished to have.' What evidence there is on the
subject hardly favours the theory which Professor Middleton thus
boldly stated as a fact. The names we know in connection with the
decoration of the 42-line Bible are those of Heinrich Cremer, vicar of
the Church of St. Stephen at Mainz, who rubricated, illuminated, and
bound the paper copy now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, and Johann
Fogel, a well-known binder of the time, whose stamps are found on no
fewer than three of the extant copies of this Bible. We have no reason
to believe that either Cremer or Fogel was employed in the printer's
shop, so that as regards the particular book which he instances, it is
hard to see on what ground Professor Middleton built his assertion.

As regards Schoeffer's practice after 1462, the evidence certainly
points to the majority of his books having been rubricated before they
left his hands, but the variety of the styles in the copies I have
seen, especially in those on vellum, forbids my believing that they
were all illuminated in a single workshop. A copy in the British
Museum of his 1471 edition of the _Constitutions_ of Pope Clement V.
presents us with an instance, rather uncommon in a printed book,
though not infrequently found in manuscripts, of an elaborate border
and miniatures, sketched out in pencil and prepared for gilding, but
never completed. The book could hardly have been sold in this
condition, and would not have been returned so from any illuminator's
workshop. We must conjecture that it was sold unilluminated to some
monastery, where its decoration was begun by one of the monks, but put
aside for some cause, and never finished.

The utmost on this subject that we can say at present is that as a
printer would depend for the sale of his books in the first place on
the inhabitants of the town in which he printed, and as these would
be most likely to employ an illuminator from the same place, the
predominant style of decoration in any book is likely to be that of
the district in which it was printed, and if we find the same style
predominant in a number of books this may give us a clue to connect
them altogether, or to distinguish them from some other group. In this
way, for instance, it is possible that some light may be thrown on the
question whether the 36-line Bible was finished at Bamberg or at
Mainz. Certainly the clumsy, heavy initials in the British Museum copy
are very unlike those which occur in Mainz books, and if this style
were found to predominate in other copies we should have an important
piece of new evidence on a much debated question. But our knowledge
that Schoeffer had an agency for the sale of his books as far off from
the place of their printing as Paris, the Italian character of the
illuminations added to some of his books, and the occurrence of a note
in a book printed in Italy that the purchaser could not wait to have
it illuminated there, but entrusted it to a German artist on his
return home, may suffice to warn us against any rash conclusion in the
present very meagre state of our knowledge.

Apart from the question as to where they were executed, the
illuminations in books printed in Germany are not, as a rule, very
interesting. Germany was not the home of fine manuscripts during the
fifteenth century, and her printed books depend for their beauty on
the rich effect of their gothic types, their good paper and handsome
margins, rather than on the accessories added by hand. The attempts of
the more ambitious miniaturists to depict, within the limits of an
initial, St. Jerome translating the Bible or David playing on the
harp, are, for the most part, clumsy and ill-drawn. On the other hand,
fairly good scroll-work of flowers and birds is not uncommon. As a
rule it surrounds the whole page of text, but in some cases an
excellent effect is produced by the stem of the design being brought
up between the two columns of a large page, branching out at either
end so as to cover the upper and lower margins, those at the sides
being left bare. It may be mentioned that much good scroll-work is
found on paper copies, the vellum used in early German books being
usually coarse and brown, and sometimes showing the imperfections of
the skin by holes as large as a filbert, so that it was employed
apparently, chiefly for its greater resistance to wear and tear,
rather than as a luxurious refinement, as was the case in Italy and
France. An extreme instance of the superiority of a paper copy to one
on vellum may be found by comparing the coarsely-rubricated 42-line
Bible in the Grenville Collection at the British Museum with the very
prettily illuminated copy of the same book in the King's Library. The
Grenville copy is on vellum, the King's on paper; but my own
preference has always been for the latter. Even in Germany, however,
good vellum books were sometimes produced, for the printers
endeavoured to match the skins fairly uniformly throughout a volume,
and a book-lover of taste would not be slow to pick out the best copy.
The finest German vellum book with which I am acquainted is the
Lamoignon copy of the 1462 Bible, now in the British Museum. This was
specially illuminated for a certain Conradus Dolea, whose name and
initials are introduced into the lower border on the first page of the
second volume. The scroll-work is excellent, and the majority of the
large initials are wisely restricted to simple decorative designs.
Only in a few cases, as at the beginning of the Psalms, where David is
as usual playing his harp, is the general good taste which marks the
volume disturbed by clumsy figure-work.

In turning from the illuminations of the first German books to those
printed by Jenson and Vindelinus de Spira at Venice we are confronted
with an interesting discovery, first noted by the Vicomte Delaborde in
his delightful book _La Gravure en Italie avant Marc-Antoine_ (p.
252), carried a little further in the _Bibliographie des Livres à
figures Venitiens_, written by the Prince d'Essling when he was Duc de
Rivoli, then greatly extended by the researches of Dr. Paul
Kristeller, some of the results of which, when as yet unpublished, he
kindly communicated to me, and finally summed up in the Prince
d'Essling's magnificent work, _Les Livres à figures Venitiens_. In a
considerable number - the list given me by Dr. Kristeller enumerated
about forty - of the works published by Jenson and Vindelinus, from
1469 to 1473, the work of the illuminator has been facilitated in some
copies by the whole or a portion of his design having been first
stamped for him from a block. The evidence of this stamping is partly
in the dent made in the paper or vellum, partly in the numerous little
breaks in the lines where the block has not retained the ink; but I
was myself lucky enough to find in the Grenville copy of the _Virgil_
printed at Venice by Bartholomaeus de Cremona in 1472, an uncoloured
example of this stamped work, which was reproduced in
_Bibliographica_, and subsequently by the Prince d'Essling. A copy of
the _Pliny_ of 1469 in the Bibliothèque Nationale, illuminated by
means of this device, has an upper and inner border of the familiar
white elliptical interlacements on a gold and green ground. In the
centre of the lower border is a shield supported by two children, and
at the feet of each child is a rabbit. The outer border shows two
cornucopias on a green and gold ground. The upper and inner borders
are repeated again in the _Livy_ and _Virgil_ of 1470, in the
_Valerius Maximus_ of 1471, and in the _Rhetorica_ of George of
Trebizond of 1472. In this last book it is joined with another border,
first found in the _De Officiis_ of Cicero of the same year. All these
books proceeded from the press of Johannes and Vindelinus de Spira. A
quite distinct set of borders are found in Jenson's edition of
Cicero's _Epistolae ad Familiares_ of 1471; but in an article in the
_Archivio Storico delle Arti_ Dr. Kristeller showed that the lower
border of the _Pliny_ of 1469, described above, occurs again in a copy
of the _De Evangelica Praeparatione_, printed by Jenson in 1470. The
apparent distinction of the blocks used in the books of the two firms
is thus broken down, and in face of the rarity of the copies thus
decorated in comparison with those illuminated by hand, or which have
come down to us with their blank spaces still unfilled, it seems
impossible to maintain that either the preliminary engraving or the
illumination was done in the printer's workshop. We should rather
regard the engraving as a labour-saving device employed by some master
illuminator to whom private purchasers sent the books they had
purchased from the De Spiras or Jenson for decoration. No instance has
as yet been found of a book printed after 1473 being illuminated in
this way.[1]

Apart from the special interest of these particular borders, the
illumination in early Italian books is almost uniformly graceful and
beautiful. Interlacements, oftenest of white upon blue, sometimes of
gold upon green, are the form of ornament most commonly met with.
Still prettier than these are the floral borders, tapering off into
little stars of gold. Elaborate architectural designs are also found,
but these, as a rule, are much less pleasing. In the majority of the
borders of all three classes a shield, of the graceful Italian shape,
is usually introduced, sometimes left blank, sometimes filled in with
the arms of the owner. More often than not this shield is enclosed in
a circle of green bay leaves. The initial letters are, as a rule,
purely decorative, the designs harmonising with the borders. In some
instances they consist simply of a large letter in red or blue,
without any surrounding scroll-work. We must also note that in some
copies of books from the presses of the German printers at Rome we
find large initial letters in red and blue, distinctly German in their
design, the work, possibly, of the printers themselves.

Germany and Italy are the only two countries in which illumination
plays an important part in the decoration of early books. In England,
where the Wars of the Roses had checked the development of a very
promising native school of illuminators, the use of colour in printed
books is almost unknown. The early issues from Caxton's press, before
he began to employ printed initials, are either left with their blanks
unfilled, or rubricated in the plainest possible manner. In France,
the scholastic objects of the press at the Sorbonne, and the few
resources of the printers who succeeded it during the next seven or
eight years, at first forbade any serious competition with the
splendid manuscripts which were then being produced. In Holland and
Spain woodcut initials, which practically gave the death-blow to
illumination as a necessary adjunct of a book, were introduced almost
simultaneously with the use of type.

So far we have considered illumination merely as a means of completing
in a not immoderately expensive manner the blanks left by the earliest
printers. We may devote a few pages to glancing at the subsequent
application of the art to the decoration of special copies intended
for presentation to a patron, or commissioned by a wealthy book-lover.
The preparation of such copies was practically confined to France and
Italy. A copy on vellum of the Great Bible of 1540, presented to Henry
VIII. by his 'loving, faithfull and obedient subject and daylye
oratour, Anthony Marler of London, Haberdassher,' has the elaborate
woodcut title-page carefully painted over by hand, but this is almost
the only English book of which I can think in which colour was thus
employed. In Germany its use was only too common, but for popular, not
for artistic work, for at least two out of every three early German
books with woodcut illustrations have the cuts garishly painted over
in the rudest possible manner, to the great defacement of the
outlines, which we would far rather see unobscured. It is tempting,
indeed, to believe that in many cases this deplorable addition must
have been the work of the 'domestic' artist; it is certainly rare to
find an instance in which it in any way improves the underlying cut.

In France and Italy, on the other hand, the early printers were
confronted by many wealthy book-lovers, accustomed to manuscripts
adorned with every possible magnificence, and in a few instances they
found it worth while to cater for their tastes. For this purpose they
employed the most delicate vellum (very unlike the coarse material
used by the Germans for its strength) decorating the margins with
elaborate borders, and sometimes prefixing a coloured frontispiece. In
France this practice was begun by Guillaume Fichet and Jean Heynlyn,
the managers of the press at the Sorbonne. Several magnificent copies
of early Sorbonne books - so sober in their ordinary dress - are still
extant, to which Fichet has prefixed a large miniature representing
himself in his clerical garb presenting a copy of the book to the
Pope, to our own Edward IV., to Cardinal Bessarion, or to other
patrons. In some cases he also prefixed a specially printed letter of
dedication, thereby rendering the copy absolutely unique. Some twenty
years later this practice of preparing special copies for wealthy
patrons was resumed by Antoine Vérard, whose enterprise has bequeathed
to the Bibliothèque Nationale a whole row of books thus specially
decorated for Charles VIII., and to the British Museum a no less
splendid set commissioned by Henry VII. Nor were Vérard's patrons
only found among kings, for a record still exists of four books thus
ornamented by him for Charles d'Angoulême, at a total cost of over two
hundred livres, equivalent to rather more than the same number of
pounds sterling of our present money.

Vérard's methods of preparing these magnificent volumes were neither

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Online LibraryAlfred W. (Alfred William) PollardEarly illustrated books: a history of the decoration and illustration of books in the 15th and 16th centuries; → online text (page 1 of 13)