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The Jenson Bible joins the Gutenberg Bible’s page turning

By Gerald Cloud

Biblia Latina. Mainz: Johann Gutenberg, 1454–55.

Genesis, Chapter I. Volume I:5r

Among the most striking features of the two volume Gutenberg Bible is the consistency of its printing and the elegance of its letterforms: the rich black ink, evenly pressed into the page resembles the applied precision of a pen—and for good reason. The typeface of the Gutenberg Bible is based on the standard hand-written letterform used in religious works of the late-medieval period: Textura, also referred to as Blackletter, or Gothic. The letters have strong vertical stokes and a boxy appearance. The exact technique by which Gutenberg cast his type in lead is not fully agreed upon by scholars, but it is generally thought that the types were produced by casting molten metal into small letter-shaped molds.

The Gutenberg Bible, the opening words of Genesis, In principio creavit Deus” [in the beginning God created]:

<em>Gutenberg Bible</em>: Genesis, Chapter 1, Volume 1:5r.
Gutenberg Bible: Genesis, Chapter 1, Volume 1:5r.

 

Biblia Latina, Venice: Nicholas Jenson, 1476.

Genesis, Chapter I

Displayed alongside volume one of the Gutenberg Bible is another two-volume Bible printed with equal elegance and expertise. Nicholas Jenson, a Frenchman working in Venice, printed the Bible on vellum (calf skin) in 1476. Jenson trained in Mainz in the late 1450s and is believed by some to have known Gutenberg. Considered to be one of the greatest early type designers and printers, Jenson chose a Rotunda typeface for this Bible. This typeface is rounder than Textura and derives from the handwritten script Carolingian minuscule, a standard calligraphic script in medieval Europe.

 

<em>Biblia Latina</em>, Venice: Nicholas Jenson, 1476. Genesis, Chapter I, Volume 1:a5r: “In principio creavit…” [in the beginning God created].
Biblia Latina, Venice: Nicholas Jenson, 1476. Genesis, Chapter I, Volume 1:a5r: “In principio creavit…” [in the beginning God created].

Jenson is most well-known for the Roman typefaces he created for works of classical literature, a typeface influenced by the humanistic scripts of the fifteenth century  (the typeface or font of this label is a Jenson Roman).

 

Sample Roman letterforms from Jenson’s 1471 <em>Cicero</em>, HRC call number: Incun 1471 c534.
Sample Roman letterforms from Jenson’s 1471 Cicero, HRC call number: Incun 1471 c534.

 

Jenson designed the letterforms, which he transferred and cut onto the face of hardened steel punches. The punches were driven into copper matrices, leaving a letter-shaped void into which molten metal was cast to form the individual pieces of type. This traditional method of typecasting resulted in uniform letters and great efficiency.

In both Bibles displayed here, the large initials and the decorations were added by hand after the books were printed. The large format Gutenberg was suitable for use on the lectern, from which the original owners would have read aloud in religious service. The smaller and more luxurious Jenson Bible, with its gold illuminations and fine handwork would have belonged to a wealthy private owner. The Ransom Center’s copy of the Jenson Bible features detailed decorations, and more than 70 illuminated initials, which were added by hand after the book was printed.

Comments

Olga Wse
Reply

How very fascinating and helpful. I’ll be at the HRC soon to view.

Jack Norfolk
Reply

If you go to my website gutenbergsecrets.co.uk I suggest you will find out exactly how the Gutenberg Bibles were printed, without using any metal.

Lois shrout
Reply

Great piece! Thank you so much. I’d like to get any news pertaining to type faces, etc.

Lois Shrout
Reply

Thank you for this message! I’m eager to see the Jenson pages.

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