Skip to main content Skip to main content

Art Through Time: A Global View

Writing Art: Biblia Latina (Latin Bible)

» Johann Gutenberg (German, ca. 1400–1468) (publisher)

Biblia Latina (Latin Bible)

Biblia Latina (Latin Bible)
Artist / Origin: Johann Gutenberg (German, ca. 1400–1468) (publisher)
Region: Europe
Date: ca. 1455
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Type on vellum
Medium: Calligraphy, Illumination, and Illustrated Books
Dimensions: H: 16 in. (40 cm.), W: 12 in. (30 cm.)
Location: Otto Vollbehr Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Credit: Courtesy of the Library of Congress/Photo by Octavo

According to a French book printed in 1471, “There was near Mainz a certain Johann surnamed Gutenberg, who was the very first man to devise the art of printing by which books were not written, as they used to be, with a reed nor with a pen as we do now, but by metal characters, and that with speed, elegance, and beauty.”

Printed in the mid-fifteenth century, Johann Gutenberg’s Bible was the first book to be printed using movable type. The technology for printing books was already in use in the Far East; in Europe, however, books were still being painstakingly copied and illustrated by hand.

At the heart of Gutenberg’s invention was the type-casting instrument. Gutenberg discovered how to create corresponding engraved steel punches with letters (all same height, different widths) and secure them in a frame. The style of the lettering created for this Bible imitates the large gothic handwriting traditionally used for biblical and liturgical texts. The letters varied subtly but systematically according to their position in a word and created a woven appearance, thus garnering the name textura. The Bible was first available as loose sheets to be purchased and finished to the owner’s taste. This often included illumination; in some cases, the sheets were also foliated and then bound.

Before the appearance of the Gutenberg Bible, the book at the center of Christian piety and doctrine was not widely available. The expense involved in producing individual manuscripts by hand, as well as the rate of literacy, meant that the Bible was restricted largely to priests and other Church officials. In many ways, these circumstances bolstered the authority of the Church, which was seen as a conduit for making the word of God accessible to the masses. The development of technology that allowed the production of innumerable printed copies brought the Bible to a much broader public, ushering in an age of Reform during which the role of the clergy was questioned and direct access to God was promoted.

Additional Resources

Baron, Sabrina Alcorn, Eric N. Lindquist, and Eleanor F. Shevlin, eds. Agent of Change: Print Culture Studies After Elizabeth L. Eisenstein. Amherst; Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007.

Briggs, Asa and Peter Burke. A Social History of Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2005.

Davies, Martin. The Gutenberg Bible. London: British Library, 1996.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Kapr, Albert. Johann Gutenberg: The Man and his Invention. Translated by Douglas Martin. Brookfield, VT: Scolar Press, 1995.

“Library of Congress Bible Collection.” The Library of Congress Web site.

Series Directory

Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2