Friday, June 18, 2010

Print or Manuscript?

A page of printed text with elaborate colored ornamentation along the margins.Quick, what is this? An early example of printing or a late-medieval manuscript?

The answer is a little complicated. The words were printed in 1476 from movable type by Jacobus Rubeus in Venice, that's just seven years after print was introduced to that city. But the printer did not see his role as usurping the whole of book production. In fact, just like the manuscript scribes, he consciously left space for an illuminator to complete his printed page.

A page of printed text with space left in the margins and for a large initial which has not been added.We are fortunate to have two copies of this particular printing of Leonardo Bruni's Historia Florentina, one printed on vellum and illuminated, the other printed on paper without the finishing work. Note in the image of non-illuminated copy that a small "m" was placed in the opening as a guide letter for the illuminator.

The two copies point to the gradual transition that took place after the introduction of movable type.  Printers created books that fit with the aesthetic and expectations of their market. Illuminated printed books are common in the incunabula period (from 1455 to 1501), but become very rare in the 16th century when printers relied on woodcut initial letters to complete their texts.

To see them, ask for Incunabula 135 and Lansburgh 36.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Thomas Orde-Lees

A sketch of three figures, two seated and one apparently falling.Thomas Orde-Lees was the storekeeper on Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. His diary is a log of events from March 1915 to April 1916 and was used in part by Shackleton in his book South. The diary includes an account of the loss of the Endurance and the subsequent journey in small, open boats to Elephant Island where Orde-Lees and other members of the expedition waited for Shackleton's return.

The page shown here contains one of many illustrations in the diary. This drawing is from the October 18, 1915 entry: "the ship was heaved up suddenly and violently and immediately rolled over slowly onto her side until she lay on her port side."

Ask for Stefansson Manuscript 185 to see the entire diary, which includes a typewritten addendum detailing some of the conditions on Elephant Island.