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  • AutorenbildRoberta Ribotta

Not only calligraphy

In the 14th century, the plague ravages Europe. So many people die, and the consequences for the economy and society are dramatic. Imagine yourself at the beginning of 15th-century Europe; you are still aware that crises and waves of disease are a constant threat, but you see profound changes occurring in many areas of human coexistence. In addition, voyages of discovery change the picture of the world. Inventions, ecclesiastical reform efforts, a first flowering of humanist thought and the fact that more and more people could read and write raised new questions.

You live in a century that marks the transition from the Middle Ages to modern times.

Against this background, Gutenberg's invention becomes a revolution.

Between 1453 and 1545, the 42-line Bible was printed in an edition of about 180 copies, of which about 30 were on parchment. It has a volume of 643 leaves, i.e. 1286 pages. The typeface has two columns and is uniformly large. The Gutenberg Bible is still considered a typographic masterpiece.

The new technology paved the way for mass literacy.

But you may ask: "Why is she talking about Gutenberg now?"

First, because there are many connections between calligraphy and typography, a calligrapher has to deepen his knowledge of this world. And second, we have started a new project at ELI, the name of which is: In Gutenberg's footsteps.

The idea of this project is to see and experience with one's hands how printing works and what steps one has to take to get the job done.

I started to do a bit of research and read up on it. Also, thanks to Lieve, I discovered a copy of Gutenberg's Bible in Göttingen, where I live.

The 1,282-page Gutenberg Bible at the Niedersächsischen Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen is one of four preserved copies printed on parchment. It can be viewed in digital form on the internet at

Gutenberg's invention stands with others, however. Earlier than in Europe, the printing technique with movable type made of wood, clay or metal was developed in Asia, especially in Korea and China. A Korean document, an Anthology of Zen Teaching printed in July 1377, was included in UNESCO's "Memory of the World" programme alongside the 42-line Gutenberg Bible from Göttingen. This Anthology is the internationally oldest known example of book printing with movable metal type.

I then leafed through the entire Gutenberg Bible from Göttingen and selected the capitals that I found most interesting. Then I chose one of them and first drew it by hand to understand the various levels I needed to be able to imprint it with three colours. Next, with the support of Lieve and colleagues, I digitised it, and in the next few weeks, I will laser-cut on MDF panels and then print it. We will see the result :-)

All this awakened in me the desire to visit The Plantin-Moretus Museum, which Lieve had mentioned several times. And so, a few Sundays ago, I finally decided to go.

The Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp dates back to the 16th-century printing house of Christoph Plantin.

The printing house founded in 1555 was one of the largest and is considered the first industrial letterpress printing house. It had up to 16 printing presses and employed over 80 people. Plantin made his publishing house a meeting place for essential humanists such as Justus Lipsius and printed Catholic and Reformation books. After his death, his son-in-law Jan Moretus took over the printing house, which became an important institution of the Counter-Reformation.

The museum houses the oldest printing presses in the world and a typographical treasure trove with countless metal printing letter types.

Furthermore, the museum owns the 36-line Gutenberg Bible, of which only 14 copies exist worldwide.

Besides being enjoyable for the above reasons, the museum is also a gem in furnishings and tapestries. In addition, it houses an extensive collection of paintings. Almost half of the pictures are portraits of the family, created by Peter Paul Rubens.

The visit is worth it!!!

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