'The Art of Palmistry' and 'The Dream of Poliphilus'. 10 major exhibits to view at 'Gutenberg Bible: early modern period' exhibition

'The Art of Palmistry' and 'The Dream of Poliphilus'. 10 major exhibits to view at 'Gutenberg Bible: early modern period' exhibition
About Johann Gutenberg, Martin Luther, Albrecht Dürer and other characters of a large-scale exhibition to open on 16 April in the Russian State Library.

'The Gutenberg Bible: early modern period' exhibition displays that very book that started the history of book printing. The Ivanovsky Hall of the Russian State Library exhibits one of the two copies of the Bible stored in Russia, printed by the Johann Gutenberg printing house in Mainz in the middle of the 15th century.

An extensive collection of rare Library books will make it possible to exhibit the Gutenberg Bible within a historical context, next to other rare incunables (the first printed books that were created before 1 January 1501) and palaeotypes (books published in the period from 1 January 1501 to 1 January 1551). The exhibition will last only two months, since old editions are highly susceptible to excessive light and humidity. A copy of the Gutenberg Bible will be later available in a digital format, but the rest of the books may only be viewed at the exhibition until 16 June.

Mos.ru article - on 10 major exhibits. Not all of the exhibited books are related to religion, there is one of the first printed editions of the Aesop's Fables and one of the last chivalric romances, and even a palmistry guide.

The Gutenberg Bible

The exhibited Vulgata edition (Latin Biblia Vulgata - 'Public Bible'), created in the Johann Gutenberg's printing house, is not the very first incunable, but it stands out for exceptionally high quality of design.

This Bible is one of the most beautiful printed books in the world. Thus Gutenberg proved that he had invented a new kind of book in no way inferior to its predecessors, richly illustrated manuscripts. Its hand-made ornamental pattern is performed in accordance with a sample of hand-written codes. The beginning of each book is marked by 126 large red and blue initials (bloomers) on a background of foliate gold and multi-coloured border of acanthus leaves and flowers. There are also 1316 middle initials at the beginning of each Chapter. They are made of foliate gold and gold paint on an ornamented red or blue background.


The uniqueness of the copy is highlighted by 282 miniatures - drawings on the lower field - and multicoloured borders. Some of the drawings are made in the French (Parisian) manner. Presumably, their author is Peter Schaeffer, one of the principal employees of the Gutenberg printing house, educated in Paris.

The Gutenberg Bible is also known as the 42-line Bible. It owes its name to the number of lines on each page (except for sheets 1-9, 129-132, which have 40 lines, and sheet 10 including 41 lines). 48 complete or relatively complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible have survived until present days: 12 - in Germany, 11 - in the USA, 8 - in the UK, 4 - in France, 2 - in the Vatican, Spain and Russia, one in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland and Japan.

The Cologne Bible

The first Bible written in the Western Low German dialect with the notes of the theologian Nicholas de Lira is known as the 'Cologne Bible'. It was printed around 1478-1479.

The Bible publication was for a long time attributed to Heinrich Quentell, but it was established that Bartholomeus von Unkel also participated in its printing. Johann Helman, a coiner and a notary, who headed the community of book publishers comprising a paper merchant Arnold Salmonster and Anton Koberger from Nuremberg, financed its publication.

This edition became really famous for its drawings. 123 woodcuts, many of which duplicated, were created by an unknown master. Most likely, he was inspired by handwritten Bible miniatures, presumably of Dutch origin, stored now in Berlin. Engravings were also painted in  watercolours.

The Cologne Bible's iconography had a great influence on all subsequent pre-Lutheran illustrated Bible editions in Germany and other European countries.

 The Luther Bible

The Luther Bible is a German-language book published in 1541 in Wittenberg by the printer Hans Lufft with the participation of George Rorer, a theologian and translator, a Lutheran clergyman and secretary of Martin Luther.

The Bible of 1541 is a revised edition of the Bible printed in 1534, the first complete translation of the Old and New Testament into German made by Luther. Like the edition printed in 1534, it is illustrated by engravings created by the master named MS (an anonymous German or Hungarian artist) and a workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder, a Luther's friend and a Reformation supporter.

Luther was so involved in the process that he on his own had selected plots and compositions for the Wittenberg edition, which engravings were painted (illuminated) by hand in watercolours. Its title pages hold the records of an illuminator with the indication of his name - Balthazar Kinast. It is kind of an autograph. Such records, priceless both in hand-written books, and in printed ones, are extremely rare.

That copy features also a record made by its owner on both cover sheets: 'Valten Herman//1545'. Presumably, it was his name and the year he bought the book. It confirms that the colouring of the engravings was made by Balthazar Kinast no later than in 1545. The illuminator became famous for its work with the Bible translated by Martin Luther that speaks for his reformatory beliefs.

According to some reports, Hans Lufft published and sold hundreds of thousands Luther Bible copies for 40 years (from 1534 to 1574) in Wittenberg, and the circulation of its reprints is incalculable.


The first edition of one of the most famous German illustrated books of the 16th century, that is the 'Theuerdank' narrative poem, published under the title 'The dangerous adventures of the honourable, brave and famous hero and the knight Theuerdank' is also available for viewing at the exhibition. It was published in Nuremberg by Hans Schonsperger in 1517.

The narrative poem was ordered by the German Emperor Maximilian I, who developed a plot and even wrote some poems. The Emperor's deeds of valour and his marriage proposal to Mary of Burgundy are described in the book in allegorical chivalric romance style. A large part of a creative work was written by the Emperor's Secretary Marx Treitzaurwein and Sigismund von Dietrichstein. The German poet Melchior Pfintzing edited the poem.

They called German Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg the last knight of the era: strict ceremonial and knight tournaments existed for a long time at his court. Being an ardent patron of arts, he often communicated with writers, famous artists and printers. Maximilian implemented several successful bibliophilic projects with Dürer participation. He did not want bronze and stone monuments to be erected in his honour, he demanded immortalisation in poems and engravings that could be distributed among people. Maximilian often took part in the preparation of creative works and carefully followed the process of making images. Apprehending his impending death, he ordered to publish 'Theuerdank'.

The book is adorned with 118 woodcuts, made by an engraver Jost von Negker based on the drawings of famous German Renaissance artists. A talented master Hans Burgkmair, whose works are characterised by broad, spacious manner and rich ornamentation, took part in the process of their creation.  Leonhard Beck, a master from Augsburg, was also very talented, he was primarily engaged in the landscape background. Some woodcuts are made after drawings by Hans Schäufelin, Albrecht Dürer's student.

The Dream of Poliphilus

'Hypnerotomachia Poliphili or Poliphilo's Strife of Love in a Dream' attributed to the Italian humanist of the 15th century Francesco Colonna is an outstanding example of printing art, the most famous book published at Aldo Manuzio publishing house. It was printed in Venice in December 1499.

This book is one of the few Manuzio's illustrated editions. In its designing the printer ignored handwritten tradition and developed a new, purely typographic aesthetics.

The book includes 171 woodcuts made by an anonymous engraver known as Poliphilus’ Master. It is believed that they were created after the drawings of the famous Venetian master Giovanni Bellini. The drawings are made as outlines closely related to the text. This work is about the protagonist Poliphilus' dreams, in which he pursues his love Polia in the ancient world.

The engravings depict ancient tombstones, architectural monuments, triumphal processions and, finally, the meeting of the protagonist with his love. The illustrations attune to the Antiqua font created by the artist Francesco Griffo. The book is notable for its loose layout, asymmetric composition and intricate typeset - the text on some pages forms a bowl, a kerchief, ship or vase.

The Art of Palmistry

The first edition of a woodcut book 'The Art of Palmistry' written by a translator and a physician of the 15th century Johannes Hartlieb with engravings by Jörg Schapff was published in Augsburg in about 1475. This edition is the only actually known copy.

The book is unique due to its secular, or rather magical topic. Guided by Johannes Hartlieb, the reader could read his or her fate in the lines and mounts on palms, foretell the future or conclude about the state of health.

'Palmistry' includes 44 engravings with the images of palms and text explanations, preceded by a two-page introduction in the Middle High German language. Only one side of sheets has a print on.

Instructions for Measuring

‘Instructions for Measuring’, the book of the German engraver and painter Albrecht Dürer was published in Nuremberg in 1525 by the printer Hieronymus Andreae, who published practically all the master’s works.

This book describes the laws of measurement and drawing of geometric charts and shapes. It contains many charts and drawings and is printed in Antiqua font. It was popular in Western Europe during the Renaissance era.

Dürer devoted a whole double page spread to explain a technique of Antiqua font drawing. It shows that each letter was drawn into a square divided into ten parts with the main stroke being of one tenth of the square height, and the connecting stroke being three times less.

Fasciculus Temporum (Little Bundles of Time)

The Venetian edition of the world chronology by Werner Rolewinck 'Fasciculus Temporum' was published at the printing house of the famous printer Erhard Ratdolt in 1475 or 1476. Later it was re-printed in 1481, 1484 and 1485.

'Fasciculus Temporum' was the first Venetian book containing a large number of engravings. According to Soviet historian and medievalist Vladimir Lyublinsky, "courtesy of Erhard Ratdolt,  large engraved initials with weaved shoots and leaves were becoming popular in Venice". Printed books gradually acquired elements of illuminated manuscripts. Engravers made books look like impressive works of art.

Aesop's Fables

One of the early editions of 'Aesop's Fables', printed in Basel by Jacob Wolf no later than 1489, will also be exhibited. The first book with a collection of the legendary Greek poet’s fables was published in 1476 in Ulm by a printer Johann Zeiner. Its compiler, the Ulm humanist Heinrich Steinhöfel, removed their medieval layers, relying on sources close to the antique origins.

Wolf's edition was illustrated with many woodcuts made by an unknown artist, copied from  Zainer's book. The collection's first page features large full-height portrait of Aesop among his fable characters. These characters are carried away to a European village of the 15h century. In addition to fables, the book also comprises an anonymous late-antique novel 'The life of Aesop'.

'Aesop's Fables' were very popular in the 15th century. The number of publications totalled 130, 20 of them were illustrated editions. It was an actual book for everyone, many times read and retold at school and at home. Along with the Donatus Grammar and the Distichs of Cato, the Aesop's fables were among the three most required works to begin schooling with. A significant number of medieval manuscripts, some with pictures, have survived until present.

World Chronicle

Hartmann Schedel's ‘World Chronicle’, published in 1493 in Nuremberg by Anton Koberger, opened a new stage in historical books illustration. This is the most richly illustrated edition of the 15th century.

The book boasts about two thousand engravings. They depict city views, portraits of historical figures, episodes from the life of saints, astronomical phenomena, real and legendary events. The engravings were created in the workshop of Nuremberg artists Michael Wolgemut, Albrecht Dürer's teacher, and Wilhelm Pleydenwurf. Their names are mentioned in the colophon - the text on the last page of handwritten and first printed books with the data about the author, time and place of a work creation. This marked a new stage in the development of book illustrations being anonymous before.

A unique document has survived until present days, that is a contract of a publisher with artists that makes it clear that the duties of illustrators, in addition to the engravings manufacture, included also the development of a book page layout. The appearance of a book was carefully thought-out, with images never duplicated on a two-page spread, all elements of the book page being in accord: fonts, initials, ornaments, arrangement of illustrations. A brilliant example of the text and image layout is a two-page spread with a Strasbourg view with an illustration and a  print field smoothly blending.

645 engravings were enough to create 1809 illustrations: the same clichés were used for different images. For portraits of 224 kings 44 woodcuts were used, and to depict the entire papacy, which at that time numbered 198 successors of the Apostle Peter, 28 images were sufficient. Similarly, many localities and most monasteries were often replicated, except for the cities well known to the publisher - Nuremberg, Cologne and Strasbourg.