Early Printed Bibles
Part 7 - Printed Bibles and Bible translations from the 15th and 16th centuries
The Bible has played an important role in the development of European culture. It has served as the foundation for many of the religious, social, and legal institutions that have shaped modern Europe. As one of the earliest texts to be written and published in the vernacular, the Bible has stimulated the development of many European languages, and it has been an important source of inspiration for painters, writers, poets, musicians, and other artists. Because of its strong influence on the arts, the Bible and Bible-related topics have traditionally been important issues for museums, libraries, and other public cultural institutions, as well as for scholars and publishers.
The actual production process, which involved the interaction of translators, publishers, printers, financiers, and artists, reflects the book’s international character. Ever since the invention of the printing press, the process of book production, of which Bible production formed an important part, has been a truly Pan-European activity. In some cases, printer-publishers would base their editions on those of other printer-publishers, occasionally even using the same typographical material. This practice has allowed the identification of clusters of closely related European editions. The titles and biblical text of all editions within one of these clusters are always identical, and some may even share typographical and iconographical material.
This collection of
c. 400 published Bibles and Bible translations from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is a thorough revision of a selection that was published earlier by Fritz Büsser. One important change that appears in the current revision is the inclusion of Biblical books that were issued separately (e.g., Luther’s
Der Prophet Jona, from 1526). The new selection also incorporates the results of recent research. Individual sections of this collection have been reviewed by specialists in the field. For example, the section on French Bibles was reviewed by Bettye Chambers, author of the
Bibliography of French Bibles (vol. 1 & 2), and the section on Italian Bibles was reviewed by Eduardo Barbieri, author of
Le Bibbie italiane del Quattrocento e del Cinquecento. Gwendolyn Verbraak, bibliographer of the
Biblia Sacra project (
Universiteit van Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), reviewed several parts of the collection. The current selection also includes editions in languages that were not represented in Büsser’s earlier work, such as Arabic and Armenian.
Three criteria guided the selection of editions to be included in this collection. The first criterion involved content. Only first editions of each translation and of the fundamental revisions were selected for inclusion. Form was a second criterion; editions with rare woodcuts, rare typographical materials, or similar features were included. Finally, we chose to include rare editions of which very few (in some cases, only one) copies have survived. Our final selection includes Bibles from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as well as several editions from the early seventeenth century. Because Bibles formed a substantial proportion of the entire volume of printed books, this project provides important insights into book production in Europe during this period.
Because of its international character, European book production was a multilingual and multicultural enterprise. Printers and publishers produced books in various languages for a Pan-European, trans-confessional, and multicultural market. This selection of Bibles constitutes a unique instrument that will provide a clear overview of this important part of European cultural heritage, and it will serve as a useful tool for further study in the history of printing, art, language, linguistics, culture, church, and other historical disciplines.
Prof. dr. August den Hollander, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam / Universiteit van Amsterdam