BIBLIA PAUPERUM: Blockbook. Schreiber xylographic ed. VI. [Southern Germany, from Netherlandish woodblocks, c.1464-65].
Chancery 2° (276 x 203mm). Collation: [1-202], 40 leaves of illustration and text signed a-v, .a.-.m., n/o, .p./.q., r/s, .t./.u., printed from 20 blocks, each bifolium printed on one side only from one block cut with two pages, in pale grey ink and folded with printed sides facing each other. The blocks agree with the description given in Schreiber with the following exceptions: a: second word in banderole on right is tecu- [final u is not broken]; c: Schreiber calls for a break at left across David's beard. It is very faint and does not reach to David's beard; .g.: there are 3, not 8, lines of shading in centre panel between nimbus of St. John and the side of the boulder; .v. last syllable (sam) of last word at lower right is present [Schreiber calls for it as broken away], the second word of 5th line of text at upper right reads ce-i, small point at top of the hat of the prophet at bottom is present [not broken]. Early MS foliation at lower outer corner.
PAPER: all sheets, with one exception, marked with a bull's head without nostrils, surmounted by 5-petalled flower, Piccard, Ochsenkopf XII: 133-135, manufactured in northern Italy and exported for use to Zurich and southern Germany, 1460-66; a single sheet (.i./.k.) marked with a tower similar to Piccard, Turm II: 334-373, manufactured in northern Italy around Milan and primarily exported to Nuremberg and towns en route (and beyond to Vienna and the Balkans), dating from 1450-71, but those with chainline measurement as here of 36mm date from no later than 1465.
Condition: bifolia divided and each leaf mounted on stub for binding with slight loss at inner margin, usually extending no further than the rule border; repaired tears with slight loss in first and final leaves; lower margin renewed in first leaf; repaired tears without loss in 3 leaves; minor marginal repairs in 7 leaves; outer fore-edge of final 3 leaves renewed, just shaving edge of the plate; tiny marginal wormhole in final 6 leaves, the last 4 filled; light stains in 15 leaves; numerous plates with some rule-frames or outlines strengthened in ink, some also with a few letters strengthened, possibly at time early foliation was added. The foregoing list is scrupulous; the condition is very good and the impression of the woodcuts, although printed with pale ink, is sharp and fresh, and the paper is strong. There is no evidence that the blank sides of the leaves were pasted together.
Gold-tooled blue morocco, fillet border on sides with cinquefoil at corners, title lettered along flat spine, gilt edges, by Charles Lewis. Provenance: Beriah Botfield from Payne and Foss for £52.10 (P. & F. Acquisitions, p. 8).
ONE OF ONLY 3 COMPLETE COPIES KNOWN OF SCHREIBER ED. VI, THE ONLY ONE REMAINING IN PRIVATE HANDS. Schreiber identified ten editions of the 40-leaf Biblia Pauperum without establishing precedence. He considered ed. VI, along with eds. I and IV, to be modelled directly on a lost original source. More recently, Renate Kroll has posited ed. IV (closely related to ed. VI) as the earliest surviving edition.
Blockbook editions of the Biblia pauperum originated in the Netherlands about 1460, possibly at Utrecht (cf. R. Koch). They were produced by cutting both image and text into a block of wood. The block was then inked, a sheet of paper laid over it, and the verso of the sheet rubbed to take the impression. The sheet, printed on one side only, was folded in half and sewn at the hinge into a binding, sometimes with the blank sides pasted together. Requiring no special equipment, their printing was not dependent on a particular shop or printer; the woodblocks could be transported and printed anywhere, anytime, in as many or as few copies as demanded. Thus within each edition, i.e. group of copies printed from the same set of woodblocks, there may be multiple impressions. Each copy therefore must be localised and dated individually.
THE BOTFIELD BIBLIA PAUPERUM IS AN IMPORTANT WITNESS TO THE PRINTING HISTORY OF BLOCKBOOKS. It is recognised but rarely documented that woodblocks travelled and that impressions from any one set could be and were printed in different locations at different times. Schreiber edition VI consists of 24 plates (12 blocks) used in ed. IV and 16 newly cut plates (8 blocks): (a-d, i-m, p/q, .c./.d., .l./lm., .t./.u.). Schreiber assigned these blocks to the Netherlands (Hind, on stylistic grounds, considered them 'Netherlandish or German'), and copies of ed. VI were certainly printed there, as watermarks in some copies show (i.e. The Hague, Royal Library copy). The Botfield copy (and the British Library copy) was printed on paper manufactured in Italy and exported for use primarily in southern Germany. This localisation is all the more interesting in light of the typographic editions of the Biblia Pauperum printed at Bamberg by Pfister c. 1462-3, and two German-text blockbook editions, one printed by Walthern of Nördlingen and Hurning in 1470, and the other by Hans Spoerer in 1471 probably at Nuremberg; there was clearly a market for the work in that region.
The name 'Biblia pauperum' is a misleading modern appellation, since it was highly unlikely that, as the name suggests, it was used to teach the poor and illiterate the story of the Bible. It presents a complex arrangement of Biblical material which can only be understood by those already thoroughly familiar with the Bible and its symbolism. At the centre of each page is a scene from the life of Christ and on each side its prefiguration, drawn primarily from the Old Testament. Figures of saints and prophets and short texts fill the upper and lower compartments. Avril Henry sees allied typology in medieval stained glass windows and altarpieces.
For at least some editions of the Biblia Pauperum, each block consisted of two pages. The British Library copy of Schr. ed. III shows cracks reaching across both pages, and the new additions made to ed. VI correspond to 2-page blocks. Because the two images on each block were separated by a space as narrow as 5mm., there is some loss at the hinge in many surviving examples. In the Botfield copy the loss is minimal. The simple method of production led to the earlier common assumption that blockbooks pre-dated books printed from moveable type. It has since been shown that the earliest surviving blockbook (Apocalypse) was printed about 1450-51, i.e. about the same time as Gutenberg's earliest experiments. The majority of surviving blockbooks were produced in the 1460s and 1470s.
Census in order of completeness:
1. Botfield copy
2. Manchester, John Rylands Library, Spencer copy 'A', complete
3. Cambridge, University Library, ex-Göttweig copy, Oates 4249, complete
4. Darmstadt, Hessische Landes- und Hochschulbibliothek Inc. IV/24, lacks leaf a, coloured
5. Brno, University Library, 87681, lacks leaf a
6. The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, lacks s and t
7. London, British Library IB. 43, last 3 leaves supplied from Schr. Ed. I
8. Hannover, Niedersächsische Landesbibliothek, Ink 1, final 3 leaves defective
9. Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Xyl. 28, lacks 3 leaves (a, a, v)
10. Vienna, Graphische Sammlung Albertina, lacks 2 leaves (g-h)
11. New York, Pierpont Morgan Library (ex-William Stuart of Aldenham Abbey, sale 1895), 1 leaf in facsimile, last 2 lvs. from another ed., leaf 8 in duplicate
12. San Marino, Huntington Library, ex-Pembroke copy, lacks 8 leaves (g-o)
13. Boston, Public Library, lacks 13 leaves: a-d, .m.-.v.
14. Vienna, Graphische Sammlung Albertina, lacks 13 leaves: a-d, .m.-.v. [current location unconfirmed]
Small fragments or single leaves are to be found in
15. The Hague, Meermanno-Westreenianum, 12 leaves only (f-l)
16. Darmstadt, Hessische Landes- und Hochschulbibliothek, 4 leaves only 17. Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, 2 leaves only (.m.-.n.)
18. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, CIBN BB-6, leaf .v. only
19. Munich BSB, Xyl. 27 is Schr. Ed. X, but final leaf is ed. VI
In addition, the location of a single leaf cited by Schreiber as once owned by Prof. C.E. Norton of Cambridge, Mass. remains unknown.
Christie's is grateful to Dr. Nigel Palmer of St. Edmund's Hall, Oxford, for sharing his notes on the location of and watermarks in additional copies, and to Gerard van Thienen for information about the Royal Library copy in The Hague.
Select Literature: S.L. Sotheby, Principia Typographica. The block-books of scripture history. London: 1858.
W.L. Schreiber, Manuel de l'amateur de la gravure sur bois au XVe siècle, vol. IV. Leipzig: 1902.
A.M. Hind, An Introduction to a History of Woodcut. London: 1935. vol. I, pp.230-242.
Robert Koch, 'New Criteria for Dating the Netherlandish Biblia Pauperum Blockbook,' Studies in honor of Millard Meiss. New York: 1977, pp. 283-89.
S. Mertens and C. Scheider (eds.). Blockbücher des Mittelalters. Bilderfolgen als Lektüre. Mainz: 1991.
A. Henry. Biblia Pauperum. A facsimile and edition. Aldershot: 1987.