Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fixated on Bibles

You'll think I'm crazy to keep looking at Bibles, but they are magnificent. I'm really getting into looking at these incunabula. Today, August 28th, I went to the American Bible Society http://www.americanbible.org/, just off Columbus Circle. They have more than 40,000 bibles in their library in 2400 different languages. 42 of the bibles are incunabula. Here's the link to their Rare Book Collection, curated by just one librarian http://rarebiblesatmobia.org/ Their conservator photographed one bible as she conserved it. The slides can be found at http://issuu.com/mobianyc/docs/preserving_a_legacy_edited

I was treated to the exhibit "Printers, Monks & Craftsmen http://mobia.org/exhibitions/printers-monks-craftsmen#slideshow1 which focuses on bindings and the construction of books, using Bibles as examples. The online exhibit includes images of most of the bindings. They had a leaf from a Gutenberg, a magnificent Koberger, and even an Erasmus Greek Bible. Of course, I could not take photos of the exhibited items, but I do have the catalog from the exhibit with full color photos.

So what did I look at? Well, two bibles of the 42. There are about 12 I'd like to examine, two was enough for one sitting.  

First I examined the 1487 Schonsperger German Bible in 2 volumes with elaborately hand colored plates. This copy had more color in its plates than the one at NYPL. I had to start with Genesis because that's where the illumination is usually found. It has more color than the one I looked at last week. Of course, to double check, I'm going back to NYPL tomorrow to look.

Then I selected another woodcut to of Moses found at the very end of Deuteronomy. Notice he's being buried, which is quite a surprise.

The next photo is of one of the decorative initials. These are printed and colored yellow, green, or orange. quite striking. Not all the initial letters are colored, so this was a nice surprise

The final image in this set of photos is one of the captions at the end of a book. This one denotes the end of Leviticus. I think these are fascinating because each printer / publisher / editor inserts his own comments and often translates Hebrew or Greek into Latin or German in this case. Keeping my languages straight is a challenge.

The second Bible I looked at was printed by Johann Amerbach in 1481. I'd studied another Bible he printed in 1482 that's at Cleveland Public Library. I wanted to see how this was different or similar.  

The American Bible Society's Amerbach is bound in full vellum. The cover isn't scuffed or marred so it looks like a newer binding, certainly not contemporary, because the binder would have used tawed (a tougher skin, usually pig). Notice the leather strings to keep the text shut. They don't seem to be as effective as metal clasps, but then again, the vellum is pretty delicate.
This Bible is printed in Latin and doesn't have any woodcuts. The decorative letters and capitals are quite nice. They are actually added by hand. You can see the guide letters, which were printed, beneath the colored letters. These guide letters told the scribe what letter to insert. This fancy T is found at the end of Deuteronomy. I've included the 'explicit' which ends the book and introduces the prologue of Jerome to the book of Joshua.

As with the other Bible, I also started at the Genesis and the introduction by Jerome. Here are the initial letters.  The Prologue to the Old Testament is on the left. Notice the beautiful floral design. The Initial letter for Genesis is on the right. The I in "In Principio"  covers many lines, and highlights the text.

This final image is of the first explicit ending Jerome's Prologue and the incipit or beginning of Genesis "which the Hebrews call Bresith. I just love these captions. 

After two hours of examining Bibles, I was exhausted, so I walked in the southernmost part of Central Park, lunched on a bench while I watched people, and headed back to Brooklyn Heights.  
As you can guess, I'm having fun exploring books in cultural institutions. I wonder what I'll find next time.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Illustrated incunabula

Tuesday I had the pleasure of paging through two different copies of Schonsperger's 1487 Bible, printed in German and illustrated with woodcuts by HB (maybe Hans Bamler according to the cataloging record), who copied the famous Quentell woodcuts.  These woodcuts are the ones you see in most bibles of the time period illustrating famous scenes in the five books of Moses, the books of Daniel and the Apocalypse.

So you might ask why I looked at two copies of the book. Well, first of all, The Spencer Collection at NYPL http://www.nypl.org/locations/schwarzman/prints-and-photographs-study-room/spencer-collection  specializes in bindings and illustrations or prints. The complete copy they own is rebound in a late 19th / early 20th century full leather binding over raised cords (that means you can feel and see the cords over the spine). I was really disappointed because I wanted to see a contemporary binding. This complete edition is hand colored as you can see by the image on the left. 

The colorist used yellow, orange, and green with gold leaf. Every woodcut is colored. The picture on the left is of creation and is usually the most elaborate. You can also see that the initial I for "In the Beginning" is also colored with gold leaf, technically it's illuminated.

 The two volume set is really quite nice and, except for the initial letters for chapters and books, is printed from type, even the running headers.


 The photograph of the illustration on the right is not colored, that's from the second copy NYPL owns of this incunabulum.

 That book is bound in original or fairly contemporary boards of wood covered with leather, blind tooled, with metal clasps that have disappeared over the centuries. You can see the cords through the board and where the signatures are loose. 

All the woodcuts are uncolored as you can see on the right. 
Here's another image from that copy.

I've learned it's really important to look at all copies of an edition because there are variations in type, layout, but mostly in rubrication, coloring of letters and the woodcuts. When the printer or publisher sold the book, they often sold it uncolored, with some colors, and elaborately colored. The Koberger German Bible (1483) at Kent State University is elaborately colored. The Schonsperger (1487) obviously came in at least two color choices, some and none. Undoubtedly, there are others out there that are elaborately colored, either when purchased or afterward.

There are six other illustrated Bibles in the Spencer incunabula collection. I'll eventually look at all of them to compare woodcuts and printing.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Incunabula are amazing

I spent Wednesday looking at incunabula at NYPL. They have over 900 of the precious works and a huge collection of bibles. As you know I've been working on a study involving incunable Bibles and decided that I would continue to work on it as an entry into a variety of rare book rooms across NYC and other cities.

The 1501 bible printed by Koberger was a delight. Purchased for the Lenox Collection, it is in original boards that are blind-stamped. (I'll be taking photos next week.)  The book is printed on beautiful textured paper. As you can imagine, the Pentateuch is heavily annotated by hand as are the Gospels. The rest is pristine. There's little hand work by this point in time but each decorative letter has a guide letter peaking out from beneath the blue or red. There's hand rubrication of all the capital letters. Chapters are captioned as are books. The running headers cover both recto and verso, but are inconsistent. What's really interesting is the Hebrew transliteration which is strangely accented. I have to consult some colleagues to determine what accent Koberger would have heard. In some cases, even sounding out the words doesn't make any sense. Needless to say, it was an absorbing experience. 

After examining Goff, which is annotated with corrections, shelf marks for NYPL, and changes in ownership for collections, there are a dozen more Bibles by Koberger, Amerbach and others I want to examine, including 5 Hebrew incunabula.  

I promise pictures next time, providing NYPL doesn't have any restrictions on posting images online.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Promenading along the tree lined shore

This morning I headed out to explore the Promenade and take photos of the shore. I couldn't resist and neither could all the tourists vying for space at the railings to take photos. Imagine living two blocks from NYC Bay. It's absolutely beautiful.

As I walk down Clark Street, I encounter interesting facades. Today I decide to just take one photo. The bas relief is really beautiful.

Then I continued on to the Promenade. It's actually the park I wrote about earlier this week that's part of the NYC Parks.

I took lots of photos of the skyline. First I focused on the various islands. As I said, I can see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Governor's Island.
Here's a photo of all three. While the statue is hard to see, Governor's island is on the left. The foreground is the platform for a new park they are constructing in the bay.

  I also took photos of the skyline of lower Manhattan:

  Then I walked North to look at the Manhattan Bridge: 
Perhaps my favorite building is this one with the wavy walls. I wonder what it is?

 Last of all, I looked at the statuary in the park and came across this globe that tells the time except that it's in the shadows of wonderful trees.

I promised myself a walk in Cadman Plaza next week. I'll take more photos of those majestic court buildings.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Day 3 - what's better than books?

On Day 3, that was yesterday, I headed into Manhattan to the New York Public Library Astor Tilden and Lenox Foundation. The main Research libraries are now called the
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Patience and Fortitude still gaze out from their majestic height over the city. 

But yesterday, I entered through the Bryant Park doors along 42nd Street. First stop was the main reading room on the third floor where I asked about their incunabula. 
Of course, I have to apply to access the collection and it sounds as though it isn't accessed often, and it's a BIG collection. I have an appointment next week to start looking at their incunabula and research resources for bibles.  The librarian I worked with was great. He had worked with the rare book collection for 20 years and was now in the main reference room. He spouted Billings call numbers and made me feel right at home. That's the system I learned to love while researching my MA Thesis. Here's the wikipedia entry for Billings http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Shaw_Billings
It's so strange to see the main catalog room devoid of catalog drawers. The NUC drawers are gone also, but the NUC is still there, on the balcony. I only have to ask for a volume if I want one. (hint to students, learn where this great tool is). After apply to use two different rare book collections, I needed lunch.  

I heard a fascinating talk in Bryant Park. The former NYPD commissioner spoke about collaboration and how the city changed under his watch as both head of the Transit Police and the NYC police.William Bratton and Zach Tumin, Collaborate or Perish! Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World. Hosted by Laurie Puhn, bestselling author of Fight Less, Love MoreI must admit it's wonderful to sit in Bryant Park and feel safe and comfortable.

After filling my brain with collaborative ideas, I wandered back into NYPL to check out their exhibit of Lunch Hour places. The Automat was great as was the entire exhibit. 
I decided to look for my great uncle who was a prominent judge in the Bronx from 1904 until the late 1920s. While I found his biographical sketch, I didn't have more info to explore. Of course, the librarians suggested online resources. Eventually, I be able to dig at more materials. While that branch of the family may not have deep roots in NYC (his father came to NY in 1889), others do.

Four hours and I was exhausted, so I walked to the subway and headed home. 
Oh yes, I also met a lovely lady from Chabad, who made certain I had Shabbat candles to bring light and peace into my home.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Day 4 - I'm already behind

I cannot believe I've been here four days already. They have been full days of walking, working on my class, and more walking. 

Tuesday I decided to check out my local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/  in Brooklyn Heights. http://www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/locations/brooklyn-heights  There was a reference department on the ground floor which had business materials and periodicals. Lots of local newspapers and phone books. The second floor contained reading rooms filled with fiction and non-fiction. I explored the local history section 974.x and found a great book on the Other Islands in NYC.

While I will use the collection, I cannot get a card because I have no permanent address in Brooklyn. What a disappointment. At least I can read the local paper, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle http://www.brooklyneagle.com/, which has been publishing since 1841. 

After a few hours with fans blowing in my ears, I headed out to explore the neighborhood some more and admired the beautiful incised designs on the side of the building. 

Once I determine where my father lived in Brooklyn when he was growing up, I'll dig into their reference collection. In the next week or so, I'll get over to Grand Army Plaza where the main branch is located. From what I understand, the Brooklyn Museum is also in the vicinity. Sounds like an entire day adventure, starting with the bus.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

First Impressions

I arrived in Brooklyn on Sunday and immediately set off to explore this historic neighborhood. Settled in the 1600s, this area was British when New Amsterdam became New-York in 1664. There is an amazing mix of colonial buildings, eighteenth and nineteenth century dwellings and brownstones, and some modern twentieth century structures, block square apartment buildings and even a few skyscrapers.

This morning, Tuesday, I decided to find the water. Just two blocks away is the “Promenade” that overlooks lower Manhattan Island, providing a view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  (Imagine the skyline without the bicycles.) 

Here's a link to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade http://nyharborparks.org/visit/brhe.html

 The Promenade curves along the westernmost shore of Long Island and skirts 6 pocket parks that were once part of “Fort Sterling” according to the extensive plaque. Just image living in a brownstone where you see the water, the ships, and the NYC skyline while you eat breakfast or write on the computer. It would be much too distracting for me to be productive, but I guess the view could become passé after a while. 

Off to explore more of the sights and sounds.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Packing & Re-Packing

It's Thursday already and I have to decide how little to bring with me. How many electronic gadgets, plugs, cords and cables do I need to capture the sights and sounds of cultural institutions on the East Coast. Will I have enough books to read and things to do? Can I live without a car for so many months? Oh yes! I cannot believe that I'll be in a new city on Sunday ready to start an adventure that has no structure, guidelines, or goals. I'm nervous and excited to leave, yet I'll miss my crazy routine. Teaching will keep me anchored and remind me that I'm searching for what the future brings.

What's on my to-do list? First the Met, that's the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is exhibiting Albrecht Dürer http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2012/durer-and-beyond Here's the entry from the Met's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History  http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/durr/hd_durr.htm   to read more about the artist.

Of course, I'll have to find my local branch of the New York Public Library http://www.nypl.org for books and DVDs. It's been many years since I've explored their collections and historic buildings. Each branch serves its own neighborhood and has unusual collections. The Research Libraries have an exhibit of Automats and Lunch counters. http://www.nypl.org/events/exhibitions/lunch-hour-nyc-0 What an interesting idea.  

Now all I need to do is figure out how to get my stuff in my suitcase so I can enjoy the sights and sounds of the city.