FIRST CZECH PROTESTANT BIBLE IN CONTEMPORARY BINDING
Biblij Cžeska w starem mieste Prazskem wytisstiena
[Prague, Pawel Severin z Kapi Hory, 1529.]
Large folio. 570 unnumbered ll., a1, 3-6 a-z8 aa-nn8 o1-2, 4-5 pp-zz8 A-H8 J1-5, 7-10 AA-OO8 PP2-8, variant without the additional woodcut title, lacking 5 leaves. Large Gothic letter, double column, in red and black. Handsome woodcut t-p with Sts John and Peter at centre, flanked by architectural frame with columns, Adam and Eve chased out of Eden by an angel above, Adam digging and Eve holding a spinning thread below; same t-p repeated on a1 (except with Moses above); full-page woodcut with six roundels depicting the days of creation (parts in period colouring); superb woodcut frame depicting Christ’s ancestors as in Matthew’s Gospel; 84 woodcuts of biblical scenes; woodcut frames with grotesques to t-ps of each section; woodcut printer’s device to recto of last; decorated initials and ornaments. T-p, first and last few ll., FF and GG soiled, frayed and crudely repaired mainly at margins and gutter, thumb marks, water stain at head of some ll., scattered ink marks, edges trimmed. Unsophisticated copy in contemporary blind-stamped pigskin over bevelled wooden boards, later eps, brass embossed corner- and centrepieces, one brass clasp, covers rubbed. Occasional early inscriptions adding Latin name of biblical books, C19 Latin and Czech ownership inscriptions on J5v-J7r, C19/C20 bibliographical notes to rear fep.
Monumentally-bound copy of the very scarce, handsomely illustrated second edition of the ‘Severinova Bible’—the first complete bible in Czech printed by the Severin press in Prague in 1488. Rarely found complete, it is ‘excessively rare, as indeed are all the old Hussite Bibles of Bohemia. There was no copy in any of the four great Bible collections; viz, of the Duke of Sussex, Dr Havtrey, Lord Crawford, and the Caxton Exhibition’ (Quaritch, ‘Catalogue of Bibles’, 1891, n.195). Based on a translation produced by the best scholars at Prague, the Severinova Bible established the key linguistic, religious (Utraquist) and political purposes of the Czech printing press, published, as written in the first edition, ‘first of all to praise god and celebrate the Czech language’ (Myl’nikov, ‘Ческая книга’, 50, 77). In 1515, Pawel, who had studied at Nuremberg, took over the family press producing only vernacular text, ‘carefully prepared’ and ‘of high aesthetic value’; the 1529 bible was reprinted, with new illustrations three years after the Habsburg annexation of Bohemia and the subsequent arrival of the Counter-Reformation, absolutism and cultural Germanisation (‘Books in Czechoslovakia’, 14, 11). Albeit with revisions to the spelling and sometimes lexicon, the translation was based on that of the Kutná Hora, the second Czech bible printed in 1489, and the Benátská bibles, the first Czech bible printed abroad, issued in Venice in 1506 (Kyas, ‘Česká bible’, 140-42). As compared to its Czech predecessors, the 1529 edition shed the Bastard type of Germanic influence in favour of the more sophisticated Schwabacher, first employed in 1522 by Severin, the first Czech printer to attempt ‘highly refined typesetting’ (‘The Reception’, 93, 42). He was also the first to display a comprehensive understanding of book layout as a synthesis of text, ornament and illustration (Voit, ‘Česky knihtisk’, 213-372). The superb design of the woodcuts—including the six days of creation—was borrowed from that of the 103 woodcuts of the Benátská Bible; like the latter, inspired in turn by the C15 Venetian Malermi Bible, the Severinova beautified the text with the use of full-page and smaller woodcuts (‘Česká kniha’, 161-64). The style and hatching of the latter were influenced by the work of Dürer and Schön. The Severin workshop, connected to the press, was among those which received originals or copies of woodblocks cut by Dürer; e.g., Severin’s printer’s device, with dancing putti and the artist monogram EWA, was based on another designed by Dürer for the Hanau printer Thomas Anshelm (Voit, ‘Albrecht Dürer’, 45, 50-51). Other major woodcuts, including the genealogy of Christ, were printed from original blocks by Erhard Schön imported from Germany. The figures of Adam digging and Eve holding a spinning thread were probably inspired by the radical ideas of Pre-Protestant movements like the Wycliffites and Lollards, summarised in the preacher John Ball’s famous lines: ‘When Adam delved and Eve span, / Who was then the gentleman?’ The Severinova Bible started ‘a series of Prague Bibles, which were then published every decade and represented an official edition, granted by the King’ (‘Interpretation of the Bible’, 1176). This is the second variant, without the additional t-p in Czech which featured a woodcut frame, the royal privilege in Latin and, on the verso, the printer’s dedication (‘Ческая книга’, 63). An exceedingly rare masterpiece of early vernacular printing and book illustration.
Only at BL (wanting sig. I6-8 and GG1), Erfurt (lacking J6), Yale (some pages mutilated) and Washington (lacking t-p, various leaves incorrectly imposed and mutilated).
A.S. Myl’nikov, Ческая книга: Очерки историй (Moscow, 1971); P. Voit, ‘Česky knihtisk mezi pozdní gotikou a renesancí’ (Prague, 2013), 213-372; Česká kniha v promenách staletí (Prague, 1990); P. Voit, ‘Albrecht Dürer a počátky České ilustrace’, Acta Musei Nationalis Pragae 64 (2019), 45-55; V. Kyas, Česka bible (Vyšehrad, 1993); The Interpretation of the Bible, ed. J. Krasovec (London, 1999); K. Boldan et al., The Reception of Antiquity in Bohemian Book Culture (Turnhout, 2014), vol. 1; E. Ryznar and M. Croucher, Books in Czechoslovakia (Wiesbaden, 1989).