In the book “The dawn of books”, Alessandro Marzio Magno defines the Bible printed by Gutenberg in Mainz, between 1452 and 1454, as sober and austere: German, Gothic, Christian and Medieval.
This first work, published in two volumes with the new technique of movable types, refers to the style of the books and manuscripts of the previous periods. The text of the page is divided into two columns, 42 ‘justified’ lines in each page. The titles are printed in red ink and drop caps as are finely decorated. According to the main historical sources, the copies of the Bible printed by Gutenberg should have been 184: 150 on paper and 34 on vellum.
Today there are only 41 specimens preserved in public collections and museums.
Once printed the text, hand thumbnails and decorative designs were added through the work of qualified illuminators.
So that the various specimens, although with the common text, are different from each other.
The invention of Gutenberg has certainly represented a landmark in the culture of people. The book printed in many copies was no longer the privilege of a few individuals, as had been for amanuenses codes and as a result, printing workshops soon arose in various parts of Europe.
Before the introduction of printing, books written by hand were generally accompanied by precious illuminated tables that enriched the text to facilitate understanding and to make the message it contained more clearer.
It follows the need to introduce in addition to writing, also depictions to reinforce the meaning of the text as well as to enrich the book.
Thus, the first illustrated books are born with text and woodcut, and the latter occupying the entire page or as interspersed figures in the text.
Today, books with woodcut figures are very rare. They represented the natural evolution of religious and devotional prints that, on loose sheets, circulated in several European countries during the mid-fourteenth century.
Throughout the second half of the fifteenth century we are witnessing a growing production of publications with woodcut illustrations.
These from simple, realized with a few strokes and devoid of perspective, become gradually more and more elaborate and complex with the addition of shading and perspective developments such to resemble more and more to artistic designs.
The printed books from origins until the 1500 are called incunabula, a term derived from the Latin “in culla” which appears for the first time in a typographic treatise printed in Cologne in 1639.
“Post-incunabula” are the books published in the first decades of the sixteenth century containing woodcuts or copperplate engravings.