By: Fiona Barnes-Brisley #3155607
Image #1: Medieval Manuscript
Image #2: Letter-pressed Incunabla
While manuscripts like that from a Missal c.1290 were used by elite, upper classes and scholars and produced in limited quantities due to the costly and timely process of hand-crafting and writing, bound codexes of early incunabla like the mechanically reproduced, letter-pressed 42 Line Bible c.1455 used the innovative mechanical printing technique that spiraled book making into efficient processes that would make knowledge more widely accessible and book production more common and abundant in future periods (Eggebeen).
At a glance, a page from the manuscript a Missal, and Johannes Gutenberg’s 42 Line Bible look strikingly similar. Both feature two justified columns, both black and red type, crisp margins and negative space used to house intricate, hand-painted, colour ornamentation (Eskilson 15). The text and ornamentation work together harmoniously in a composition that emphasizes a vertical organization of the page layout and show skillful painterly technique. Both texts show high standards for design and craftsmanship. While they may seem correlative, the texts were produced nearly 200 years apart, emerging at different ideological periods and using much different craft processes (Eggebeen).
Manuscripts of the medieval period present value, power, and status, and were hand-crafted with a brush and ink by scribes in monasteries, therefore connecting them to the power of the catholic church (Eggebeen) and presenting utmost beauty and magnificence (Eskilson 15). Knowledge correlated with religion. The script of this particular manuscript page is gothic, reflective of gothic architecture showing its religious connotations and requiring skill in its technique (Eggebeen).
In the early modern period, however, a societal shift away from the power of the catholic church and towards more systematic approaches, and empirical ideologies of knowledge emerges (Eggebeen), which can be seen in the process of mechanical printing. Previously, books were rare and limited, yet after Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type and the printing press, his 180 copies of the Gutenberg Bible exceeded libraries of the medieval period (Eggebeen). Books, because of the availability of efficient reproduction using punch-printed metal characters were more broadly available to the growing literate public (Eggebeen). Specialists worked in teams, in a systematic fashion to create the bible (The British Library) showing the cultural value of systemized tasks. It is interesting to note that Gutenberg sought a typeface that was both mechanically produceable and resemblant of handwritten script seen in manuscripts (Eggebeen), as when compared to a manuscript page, the strokes are visually similar to the gesture of hand-written script rather than a highly measured and refined typeface. Gutenberg’s typeface B42 is a direct development of medieval gothic script, what is used on the page from a Missal (Eggebeen).
After examining the similarities of these two codex pages, the question of why and who was Gutenberg aiming to target with his influenced design arises.
Gutenberg Produced his text in Latin as well as German (The British Library) much different from manuscripts which were fully Latin and intended for scholars, making Gutenberg’s work appealing to those who could understand two different languages, a benefit that would soon see letterpress books become embraced by broader groups, and spread across Europe rather than remain centrally restricted to Germany (Eskilson 15). At a time of competition and desire make money in the book market, the similarities that Gutenberg uses to make his text connected to a likeness with high standards of beuty that manuscripts held associations with cleverly present a familiarity to consumers (Eskilson 15), making his product have a successful potential. The mechanized reproduction process allowed for more efficient reproduction that would make books more available and consumable objects of profit.
Using gothic script, layouts, and ornamentation reminiscent of the past was an effective way of Gutenberg introducing a new unfamiliar printing process to the public in a familiar manner. His 42 Line Bible is an incunabula that broadened audiences to books through language and reproduction, appealed to the cultural shift away from knowledge centering on the catholic church and towards knowledge as mechanization. For these reasons, the text and process of letterpressed printing became adapted through its influences from manuscripts smoothly into society of the Early Modern Era across Europe.
Eskilson, Stephen John. Graphic design: a new history. 2nd ed., Laurence King Publishing, 2012. Print.
Eggebeen, Janna. “What is Graphic Design? Why Study Its History?” Lecture #1, 9 Jan. 2017, Toronto, OCAD University, Rm 190.
Eggebeen, Janna. “19th Century Graphic Design: Mass Culture and Mass Production” Lecture #2, 16 Jan. 2017, Toronto, OCAD University, Rm 190.
“Making of the Bible – the Types.” Treasures in Full, The British Library, 21 July 2004, www.bl.uk/treasures/gutenberg/type.html.
Flask, Dominic. “ Johannes Gutenberg.” Gutenberg : Design Is History, www.designishistory.com/1450/gutenberg/.
“Manuscript Leaf with Initial M, from a Missal.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017, www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/466241.