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Johann Gutenberg’s Bible

Image from the Gutenberg Bible

Gutenberg's (42-line) Bible
British Library C.9.d.4, f.1
Copyright © The British Library Board
A high-quality version of this image can be purchased from British Library Images Online. For more information email imagesonline@bl.uk

Probably the most famous Bible in the world, Gutenberg's 42-line Bible is the earliest full-scale work printed in Europe using movable type. Printed in Mainz (Germany) by Johann Gutenberg and associates, fewer than 50 copies of the original now survive, in public and private collections around the world.

This Latin Bible was the work of a partnership between Johann Gutenberg, Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer, which was dissolved in 1455 after the completion of the book.

Only 48 copies are known to have survived, of which 12 are printed on vellum and 36 on paper. Twenty are complete, two of them at the British Library. Many, including the British Library's lavish paper copy, married the new technology of printing with the old, and contain hand-painted decoration so as to imitate the appearance of an illuminated manuscript. The result was a work of exceedingly high quality which set standards for book production which in many ways are still unsurpassed today.

This is the introductory page to the Proverbs. The illustrations depict scenes from the natural world: monkeys, birds and flowers, suggesting echoes of Eden. The text is very legible and is made clearer by the use of highlighted first letters for new sentences.

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