Cambridge Incunabula Masterclass: Rubrication and fifteenth-century English printing

By , 5 March 2015 2:32 pm

On Friday 20th March 2015, Cambridge University Library will be holding a further masterclass as part of the Incunabula Project.

The masterclass, entitled “Rubrication and fifteenth-century English printing” will be led by Satoko Tokunaga of Keio University & Takako Kato of De Montfort University.The seminar will be held in the Sir Geoffrey Keynes Room at the Library. It will start at 2.30pm and will last approximately 90 minutes, allowing time for questions and discussion. Attendance will be limited in order to allow all attendees a chance to see the books under discussion up close, and to participate in the discussion.To book a place, please email


Aldus Manutius (1452? – 6 February 1515) : A humanist printer for humanist readers. Aldine editions at Cambridge University Library

By , 6 February 2015 8:19 am

Tuesday 6 February 1515 was a sad day for the Venetian literati. Aldus Manutius, the ‘Prince’ of Renaissance printers, had died.

His death was not unexpected though. He had in fact complained of having been unwell for sometime in the letter dedicated to his former pupil Alberto Pio in his last book, the Lucretius of January 1515. The loss of such remarkable a printer and editor was nevertheless mourned by Venetian scholars, humanists and “bibliophiles”. On Thursday 8 February it was mentioned in his diary by Marin Sanudo, the Venetian politician and chronicler: “Two days ago don Aldus Manutius the Roman died here in Venice; he was an excellent humanist and Greek scholar and was the son-in-law of the printer Andrea [Torresani] of Asolo. He produced very accurate editions of many Latin and Greek works with prefatory letters addressed to many, dedicating a number of little works to me, Marin Sanudo. He also wrote an excellent grammar … This morning, the body having been placed in the church of San Patrinian with books surrounding it, the funeral rites were held. An oration praising him was recited by Raphael Regio, public lecturer in humanita in this city”.[1]

The 500th anniversary of his death is celebrated this year by libraries and institutions all over the world. Cambridge University Library joins in with a small exhibition of books published by Manutius between 1495 and 1515 (plus a couple of others) on display in the library Entrance Hall, from Monday 6 February to Saturday 7 March 2015, with an enlarged online version at

Drawn from the library holdings of incunabula and early sixteenth-century Aldine editions, the exhibition celebrates Aldus’s achievements as the most successful editor, printer and businessman in Renaissance Italy. The individual history of some of these books also illustrates his importance as a highly respected humanist, scholar, linguistic and grammarian who could converse at equal level with humanists of the stature of Pietro Bembo and Erasmus of Rotterdam.








[1] Marin Sanudo, Diarii, 8 February 1515, as translated by Linda L. Carroll in Venice. Cita excellentissima. Selections from the Renaissance Diaries of Marin Sanudo, eds P. L. Labalme and L. Sanguineti White. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2008, pp. 432-433.

Art in Books: Lambrecht Hopfer’s Crucifixion (c. 1525–50) in the Opuscula of Saint Bonaventure (1497) – A post by Elizabeth Upper

By , 27 November 2014 5:32 pm

Cambridge University Library is one of the world’s greatest repositories of books, and many of these books contain artworks. Some were printed with the text (book illustrations), some were added to the text after printing (painting and illumination), some were bound into a volume, and some were pasted on by later collectors. Regardless of the kind of image, pictorial elements in books can provide art historians and bibliographers with important information about the interrelated ways in which both kinds of printed material, books and art, were collected, used and valued over the centuries.

The copy of the Opuscula of Saint Bonaventure, Brescia: Bernardinus de Misintis, for Angelus Britannicus, 31 December 1497 (ISTC ib00930000Inc.4.B.23.12[3713]) has a print of the Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John pasted onto the verso of the third upper free endpaper [Fig. 1]. The iconography, or standard visual formula, is a devotional image of the Crucifixion that traditionally faces the start of the Canon of the Roman Catholic Mass (Canon missae) in missals. The print is undated, and it is signed ‘LH’, the monogram of Lambrecht Hopfer (Augsburg, active ca. 1525–1550), in the lower right corner.

Lambrecht Hopfer’s Crucifixion in the 1497 Opuscula (Inc.4.B.23.12[3713])

Engravings are made by incising a metal (usually copper) plate with a sharply pointed burin, and the V-shape of its tip usually results in lines that taper to pointed ends. It is a physical process, and the slow movement required to push the burin through the plate’s surface means that engraved lines are smooth strokes that cannot be jagged or freely sketched. Etching, in contrast, is a chemical process that allows for greater freedom of the hand of the artist. First, the plate’s surface is covered with a thin layer of a protective, acid-resistant substance, the so-called etching ground (Hopfer may have used plain beeswax), and the artist creates the design by scratching it away with a sharp etching needle. The plate is then dropped into acid that eats away the unprotected surface, i.e., the design. After the design has been eaten into the plate, the printer fills the grooves with ink, puts a sheet of damp paper onto the inked plate, and takes an impression in the press. In the Crucifixion, the lines are freely drawn and of consistent width with rounded (not tapered) ends [Fig. 2], so the print must be an etching rather than an engraving. Because Hopfer is known to have produced etchings only in the 1520s, it can be assumed that Hopfer designed it between c.1525 and c.1530.

Fig. 2. Macrophotograph of etched (not engraved) lines

Engraving had been used to decorate gold, silver, brass and bronze objects since Antiquity, and etching had long been used to decorate items, such as weapons and armour, that were made from metals that were too hard to engrave, like iron and steel. Engraved copper plates had been printed from the mid-1430s, but etching was invented as a printing technique by Lambrecht’s father Daniel Hopfer (ca. 1470 Kaufbeuren–1536 Augsburg) in Augsburg around 1500. Lambrecht and his brother Hieronymus (Augsburg, active ca. 1520–1530) later joined Daniel in printing etchings. This means that the Crucifixion was designed in the first-ever etching printshop by the son of the inventor of this printing technique.

Fig. 3. Albrecht Dürer, Crucifixion, The Engraved Passion (1511)

The design is a copy after Albrecht Dürer’s Crucifixion from The Engraved Passion (Nuremberg, 1511), of which there are three copies in the Fitzwilliam Museum [Fig. 3Albrecht Dürer, Crucifixion, The Engraved Passion (1511); Los Angeles County Musuem of Art; public domain via Wikimedia Commons]. The two-generation Hopfer etching dynasty issued many reproductive prints. Only 16 of Daniel’s 146 known etchings reproduce or are modeled on other works, but most of Hieronymus’ 83 etchings and all but five of Lambrecht’s 39 etchings are copies after other masters. This not only tapped into established markets, but also may have helped to disseminate their novel technique. The model could not have been an etching—Dürer issued his earliest known dated etchings in 1515, and etching had become common by the next generation—so the choice of technique, or the reproduction of an engraving of 1511 with an etching about ten years later, manifests the transformation of the emerging technologies of printmaking at this time.

The print was originally designed without the number engraved in the lower margin [Fig. 4: First state: Lambrecht Hopfer, c.1525–50]. Like many of the Hopfers’ plates, the University Library’s print has a number engraved by a sloppy, later hand in the lower margin. This is called the ‘Funck number’ because the Hopfers’ descendant David Funck (Nuremberg 1642–1705) acquired over two hundred of their original iron plates, engraved numbers into them, and re-printed them around 1686-1700. The ‘182’ indicates that the Crucifixion was the 182nd print in Funck’s series [Fig. 5: Second reissue: David Funck, c.1686-1700]. About a century later, 92 of these plates were acquired by Carl Wilhelm Silberberg in Frankfurt and re-re-printed in the book Opera Hopferiana (Frankfurt am Main/Göttingen: C. W. Silberberg, 1802), of which the Crucifixion was the 90th print [Fig. 6: Third reissue: in Opera Hopferiana, 1802]. The addition of the Funck number indicates that this impression was printed from a sixteenth-century plate either 150 years later by Funck or 250 years later by Silberberg, but which one was it?

Fig. 6: Third reissue: in Opera Hopferiana, 1802. Courtesy Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen

Fig. 4: First state: Lambrecht Hopfer, c.1525–50; © The Trustees of the British Museum

Fig. 5: Second reissue: David Funck, c.1686-1700. Herzog August Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig, LHopfer AB 3.12; With permission

One clue comes from a technical detail of the print’s production. During the printing process, paper must be damp; this makes it flexible enough to be forced into the grooves of the plate in order to take the ink from the incised (sunken) areas of the design (copperplates quickly became standard for many reasons, not least because copper is impervious to rust). The Hopfers used iron plates, like many of the earliest etcher-printmakers, and iron rusts upon exposure to moisture. Rust is clearly visible on the Hopfer family’s iron plates, such as Daniel’s plate for a print of Venus and Cupid, c.1510, in the SUB Göttingen [Fig. 7a-b].

Fig. 7a. One of Daniel Hopfer’s original iron plates. Daniel Hopfer (c.1470-1536), Venus and Cupid, c.1500-36, 22.7 x 15.7 cm, etched iron plate. Courtesy Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen


Fig. 7c. Detail of Fig. 7a showing rust spots. Courtesy Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen

Fig. 7b. Detail of Fig. 7a showing rust spots. Courtesy Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen











Iron etchings can often be distinguished from copperplate etchings by the accumulation of rust spots; rust has an irregular surface that holds ink, so rust spots are also printed. In this impression, the small dark, printed streaks below Jesus’ right breast [Fig. 8] and near St John’s armpits and upper thigh are indicative of rust spots on the iron plate. Because damage accumulates over time—it is expected that the first state would have the least damage, the second state some, and the third state the most—it should be possible to identify when this Crucifixion was printed by comparing the damaged areas to impressions whose date of printing is known.

Fig. 8. Comparison of a rust spot in left: State I, c.1525–50; centre: the CUL impression; right: ‘State’ III, 1802

However, the results are not straightforward. In the few examples from the first state, all of which are on sixteenth-century paper and lack the number ‘182’, the same mark on Jesus’ chest is not only present but also significantly larger and darker. Since the present impression must therefore be from the second or third state, the apparent reduction of rust spots may indicate that the iron plate had been repaired. But that is impossible. Although some impressions from the second state have only that rust spot, others have the four disturbances. In third-state impressions, the four spots are also present and as prominent as in the first-state impressions. How can this make sense? The plate must have acquired the rust on Jesus’ chest early on. Rust can be removed from iron plates if it is only superficial, but evidence of the same rust spot in the first (c.1525-1550) and third (1802) editions indicates that this spot was not removed.

But rust can also be (at least partly) concealed if the printer carefully wipes the ink off of the rusted area before pulling each impression. Because the rust spots are far more pronounced in both the first-state impressions from Hopfer’s lifetime and the last impressions from 1802, the impression of the Crucifixion in the book must also have been pulled from a plate with the same rust spots, which were ‘hidden’ by the printer’s careful wiping. Although the plate seems to have been in the same condition as when Silberberg re-re-printed it in 1802, it is unlikely that it came from the Silberberg volume; all 1802 impressions I have seen are uniformly printed with no effort to conceal damage to the plate.

The Funck number reveals that this impression of the Crucifixion was printed after c.1686-1700 in the second or third state. The careful wiping of the ink, which is inconsistent with the Silberberg impressions, seems to rule out a dating to the third state of 1802. Although the paper is damaged and discoloured, and no watermark can be seen because it is pasted down, it can be tentatively dated to the seventeenth century; in any case, it is of a different character than the paper used in the Opera Hopferiana. On these grounds, it can be concluded that this is a second-state impression issued by Funck in the late seventeenth century.

What does this mean for Cambridge University Library’s copy of the Opuscula? Bonaventure (born as Giovanni di Fidanza, Bagnoregio 1221–Lyon 1274) wrote the text in the thirteenth century, and this collection of his writings was part of a surge of his publications following his canonization in 1484. The text was printed in Brescia, Italy, in 1497, and the present copy was bound soon after in Belgium; it remains in its late fifteenth-century Belgian binding.  The book was inscribed with the name ‘Baillardj’ in the late 15th century, an inscription indicates that it belonged to the Carthusians of St. Mary in Brussels in the late 15th or early 16th century, and annotations in a continental Gothic bookhand also indicates its use in Belgium at this time. But then the trail goes cold until it was purchased from the local book dealer G. David, Cambridge in 1931.

The addition of this late-seventeenth-century re-issue of an early sixteenth-century devotional print to fifteenth-century theological text may point to the functional collecting practices of an active reader. Or, the book may have simply seemed like a safe place for someone to keep a print. We may never know. Regardless of why or by whom it was pasted in, it hints at the life of the book during the intervening 400 years. As a single-sheet print that was effectively transformed into a book illustration, and as an early modern work of art that was used to decorate a medieval book, it also expresses the flexibility of early printed material: the modern division of text (books) from image (art) came about long after these objects were first produced. In the broader view, it hints at the richness of invisible art collections pasted inside books in libraries.

Elizabeth Upper

Displaying incunabula: a labour of love

By , 4 November 2014 7:46 pm

The Library’s incunabula exhibition, Private Lives of Print: the use and abuse of books 1450-1550 opened to great acclaim on 23 October 2014. Thanks to a generous donation from the Howard and Abby Milstein Fund we are able to photograph every item in the cases for a virtual exhibition which will remain after the physical display closes. Given the short exhibition changeover period (only eight working days in this instance) the books were photographed in advance, many of them flat or as single pages, rather than in their final cradles.

There has been a great deal of interest from other specialist librarians and exhibition curators in the way we have displayed the books. The process of preparation for this particular exhibition was considerably more intensive than in previous cases; the theme of the exhibition focuses primarily on books as objects, rather than on the texts within, meaning that they need to be displayed in unusual and often unique ways. The Library’s Conservation team leapt at the challenges this created: how to show multiple openings at once; how to hang broadsides as if nailed to the back of the case; how to display a binding and its endpapers simultaneously.  Some of the stands took several months to design, and were manufactured by Engineering Design and Plastics, a local firm. Other special features of the display, such as the maniculae pointing at marginal markings in our Gutenberg Bible, were dreamed up only in the last few days of the mounting process and created with a Blue Peter-esque level of ingenuity. The curators and exhibitions officers are immensely grateful to the Conservation team for their patience, imagination and dedication to this exhibition, and a few samples of their work are shown here. Some of the photographs were taken professionally at the exhibition opening, others by a member of staff, so please excuse the variation in quality.

The cradles fall into four main categories: Multiple openings, Floating parts, Bindings, and Mirrors. Some books cross several of these categories, and these were the most challenging (and satisfying) to work with. All images can be enlarged, and item description are linked to the main virtual exhibition website.

Multiple openings:

Sketches on the endpapers showing heroic figures

Above, classical figures drawn into the front and rear endpapers of a copy of Dictys Cretensis suggest that an early owner was inspired by the characters within the text. Below, two medieval manuscripts relating to the monastery at which this volume was boundin the late fifteenth century both used within the binding; they give vital information about the history of the book.

Two fourteenth century manuscripts from the monastery of Schussenried used within the binding of this volume

The volume illustrated on the right was printed and illuminated in Venice in 1493; so far, so simple. Yet further evidence in the binding and annotations show that by 1520 it had been taken to Switzerland and bound there. For viewers to understand the full story, the annotations, illuminations and binding all need to be visible.





Floating items:

Broadsides ‘pinned’ up within the case

The main examples of floating exhibits come in the case discussing broadsides and other single sheet incunabula; the intention was that these would be displayed as in the fifteenth century, ‘pinned’ up to the wall of the case. This was achieved by attaching each broadside to a flat acrylic mount using small magnets, then hanging these from a metal rod using fishing line. They appear to float in the air, with their captions on a single sheet together at the end of the upper level of the case. In order to design this case, a life-size board mock-up was created in the Conservation studio, so that different options could be experimented with.

On the lower level a large missal stands upright with two openings on display; a crucifixion within the main body of the text, and an additional crucifixion woodcut pasted into the front board.

Two crucifixions on display within a single volume









A single leaf floating above a larger book

Detail of the stand holding the Festial leaf clear of the volume below

A pair of items showing signs of expurgation of outlawed saints during the sixteenth century is displayed not just side by side but one atop the other; a copy of the Golden Legend below, with a leaf of Mirk’s Festial above. The single leaf is ‘floated’ on an acrylic stand wrapped around the larger volume.

Finally a small touch added at the last minute: manicules pointing out the annotations made in the Cambridge copy of the Gutenberg Bible when it was used as exemplar in the print workshop of Heinrich Eggestein. The hands themselves were taken from an image in the Blockbook Apocalypse, and mounted onto small acrylic ‘arms’ which are attached to the cradle. These seemed better in keeping with the feel of the exhibition than a more usual red paper arrow.

Manicules pointing at marginal notes in the Cambridge Gutenberg Bible


The annotation explains that this book was taken to Galilee by a Dominican friar

The binding of the Galilee volume, utilising a thirteenth-century manuscript fragment for lightness and portability

Many of the volumes in the exhibition have bindings which needed to be displayed in a way that enabled viewers to look at the text block or endpapers, then move around the case and see the binding as well. With smaller volumes such as this pocket-sized Summulae logicales this could be effected by standing the book upright, but for others more complicated solutions had to be found.


Several of the items on display needed to show both binding and an internal detail, but could not be displayed upright because of their size and positions within the exhibition room. Examples include two volumes bound in Cambridge, one by the Unicorn Binder (1) and the other by W.G. (2). In both of these cases the front board is held upright by triangles of bent acrylic, with a mirror resting across the front endpaper. The third example is bound probably by Konrad Dinckmut for the brothers of Buxheim (3).

The structure of the binding visible both inside and out (1)


The detail of the tooling visible simultaneously with the text within (3)

A mirror used to show the endpaper  (2)

Mirrors, Binding and Multiple openings:

Six pages and two boards on display at once

Perhaps the star of the show in terms of complex display is this brick-like volume containing nine separate manuscript and printed items bound up together. We wanted to display several different parts of the book to illustrate the point that they had been brought together without discriminating between different media, and the size of the book meant this could only safely be achieved by resting it on its spine. This necessitated early decisions about which openings would be displayed, so the exact angle of the cradle could be set. An extension was added to hold the clasp, and a small gap cut in the sheet supporting the front board to show the catchplate when reflected in a mirror. The sections of text block were held together with polyethylene strapping, and small triangular wedges of acrylic were constructed in-house to hold the sections apart.

A single sheet of acrylic, acrylic wedges, polyethylene strapping and a mirror combine to display this book in a unique way.