British Library Treasures in full: Gutenberg Bible
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The copy on vellum - Decoration

The Bibles were not ready for use when they came off the press; rubrication, large capital letters, and decoration were still to be added.


In the early stages of the printing, Gutenberg printed the red headlines before each chapter of the Bible. This procedure involved passing each sheet under the press twice and it was soon abandoned, probably because it was too time-consuming. Henceforth the rubrics were intended to be supplied by hand, by rubricators. This task was not undertaken in Gutenberg's workshop, for the rubication differs from one copy to the other. Gutenberg provided assistance for the rubricators by producing four leaves of instructions. Two copies of the instruction sheets survive, in Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and in Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.

The Grenville copy does not follow the guidance sheet. Rubrics, chapter numbers, and accent marks are supplied in red. There are no running head-lines. Large initials are supplied in red and blue ink with some pen work decoration. Smaller initials alternating in red or blue ink. Small capitals are marked with red pen-strokes.

Red and blue capitals and a rubric in red
Red and blue capitals and a rubric in red. Larger image.


The style and the extent depended on how much money the owner wanted to spend. The Grenville copy has no decoration as such.

Tell Me More

1. The copy on paper
2. The copy on vellum
3. The 42-line Bible 'Bagford Fragment'
4. Why compare the copies?
5. The digitisation
6. Analysis of the Illuminations Using Raman Microscopy
7. Copies elsewhere in the UK

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