The world of written information is changing. We are in the midst of a major shift from print to digital culture (you are, after all, reading this online). It seems timely, then, to look back at an artifact from another major revolution in the technology of writing — the shift from manuscript to print culture. The first hundred years of printing offer many fascinating examples of the overlap between the conventions of manuscript culture and the emergence of a new print culture. One such example is this book of hours, Hore intemerate Virginis Marie secundu[m] vsum Romanum cum pluribus orationibus tam in Gallico [et] in Latino, produced in Paris circa 1505.
Hore intemerate Virginis Marie secundu[m] vsum Romanum cum pluribus orationibus tam in Gallico
[et] in Latino [Printed Book of Hours]. [Paris: G. Anabat, 1505.] Call Number: Summerfield C65
Squint and it looks like an illuminated manuscript (at least in the top image), but it is actually a printed volume, with hand-colored illustrations and metalcut borders. During the late medieval period, books of hours were among the most common manuscript volumes owned by laypeople (whether nobility or wealthy merchants). Accordingly, it is not surprising that with the advent of moveable type, printers soon tried their inky hands at producing these devotional texts. This particular volume draws upon several features of manuscript books of hours. It is printed on vellum (treated calf skin) and contains hand-colored initials and miniatures (the latter literally painted on top of the metalcut illustrations).
Printed books of hours flourished roughly between the 1480s and 1530s, co-existing alongside their manuscript counterparts. This volume from the Spencer Library’s collections was printed in Paris, a center for printed books of hours, by Guillaume Anabat for the bookseller Germain Hardouin and likely hand-colored in the Hardouin workshop (see the colophon pictured below).
Encountering a book like this makes one wonder which present-day artifacts will someday be seen as the products of a writing culture in transition. In 500 years, will we look at early e-readers as strange hybrids: objects that apply the conventions of the “print world” to the digital environment?
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Special Collections Librarian