First Bible with Woodcuts
Augsburg: [Günther Zainer, not after 1474?]. (06169)
The first illustrated Bible in the history of European typography is believed to be Günther Zainer’s undated German Bible. According to a lost fifteenth-century document recorded in 1775, Zainer donated a copy of this Augsburg edition to the Carthusian monastery at Buxheim in 1474. Thus, he printed his illustrated Bible in the third decade after Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of European typography in Mainz, and a little more than a decade after the first woodcut illustrations appeared in books printed with moveable types.
Zainer’s Bible is illustrated with seventy-three large historiated woodcut initials that mark the beginning of each biblical book. Although most of the woodcuts depict biblical narratives, portraits of the evangelists and apostolic authors predominate in the New Testament. The Bible’s first woodcut, gilded and hand-colored in Bridwell Library’s copy, takes the form of the initial “B” that begins St. Jerome’s introductory letter to St. Paulinus, Bishop of Antioch. Dressed as a cardinal in red, St. Jerome presents his completed translation of the Latin Bible to the bishop saint.