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.

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