Browse Exhibits (2 total)

Invention and Discovery: Printed Books from Fifteenth-Century Europe


Originally exhibited February 2–May 3, 2010


Since 1962, Bridwell Library has built one of the finest collections of fifteenth-century printed books held in America. Numbering more than one thousand volumes, Bridwell’s collection of pre-1501 imprints is not merely a gathering of early typographic specimens. It is a rich and wide-ranging library of fifteenth-century reading material that reflects the mainstreams of European theological and humanist thought during the Renaissance period. Based on Classical, Christian, and medieval traditions, the early printed editions represented here helped lay the spiritual and intellectual foundations of the modern age.

This exhibition presents sixty books and broadsides printed between c. 1455 and 1500. The selections highlight unique copy-specific characteristics that focus attention on the various ways in which Europeans in past centuries discovered the power and potential of Gutenberg’s invention. Early readers were not content to leave their books exactly as they came off the presses, but were inclined to engage in their contents mentally and to intervene in their appearance physically. Employing local artisans to provide rubrication, illumination, and bindings, readers added their own annotations, inscriptions, and other signs of ownership and use. As a group, the exhibited items reflect the active participation of countless individuals in the initial spread of printing across Europe.

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The Word Embodied: Scripture as Creative Inspiration in Twentieth-Century Book Arts


Originally exhibited March 1–June 15, 2019
The Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Galleries


The transmission of culturally significant texts, especially Scripture, has always been a serious task. In the manuscript era, scribes paid strict attention to the precise copying of the Bible so as not to corrupt its sacred message. Scripture was thoughtfully laid out in columns and surrounded by generous margins. Vivid features including initial letters, rubrication, and decorative flourishes both aided the reader and sought to embellish and glorify the Word of God. Illustrations sometimes further magnified written works with narrative depictions of biblical stories. Away from the written page, artists portrayed people and events of Scripture in drawings, paintings, and sculptures.

Twentieth-century printers and artists developed aesthetic principles that articulated the power of the book to influence the reader’s experience of a text. They endeavored not simply to copy or illustrate Scripture but to embody it in a meaningful form. Whether austere or exuberant in design, these books were conceived to give countenance to the spirit within. Consideration of what constitutes the book arts in the twentieth century and today inevitably confronts a variety of terms, including fine press, private press, livre d’artistes, artists’ books, and others. Such terms are often misunderstood and conflated, and they may in fact overlap. The purpose of this exhibition is not to define the boundaries of these categories nor to assert an orthodoxy, which itself would merely be subjective. Rather, here we explore the book as a creative expression and the wide array of inspirations, methodologies, and realizations experienced and expressed throughout the period.

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