The Origin Story…

Previous blog post: introduction
Blog posts to come: audience, illustrations, digital afterlives

As I started to research the origins of my book, I realized that there were a lot of pretty interesting people involved in the production of it and that the physical book is less common than I previously assumed. I’m going to group this discussion into three sections looking at the printer, the author, and the illustrator as well as start to understand why a Dutch book was published in France.

Printing Ribbon

I want to start with the printers, I initially misread the printing mark as “Son En Ev Art Di” but I now see that if you read it following the order of the words on the ribbon it actually reads “Son Art En Dieu” which is one of the printer’s mark for the de Tournes printing family (see image on left), I think it translates to “His God’s art”. This correlates with the information on the title page that read, “Gheprint tot Lions, By my Ian van Tournes” which I believes says “Printed in Lyon, by Jean de Tournes”. Jean de Tournes was the patriarch of the de Tournes family and the man that started the printing company, which was later taken over by his sons. The majority of his work was published from 1520 to 1569 and covered a variety of topics and languages. He was working under various other people until 1542 when he opened his own printing shop and there was a marked rise in the production of books from that time but more so between 1548 to 1562. Besides from printing the work of others, Jean de Tournes was an author himself and a learned humanist and published works that were by both ancient and modern authors including various editions of the Bible, he also published books in a variety of languages including Latin, Greek, French, and Dutch. Jean de Tournes was a convert to Protestantism (somewhere around 1545) and expanded beyond publishing the Bible in the traditional Latin. Jean de Tournes was also the imprimeur du Roi which meant he was the Printer to the King from 1559 onwards and enjoyed certain privileges because of this. He started a legacy with his work which was continued onwards by his son and grandson, who later moved the printing business to Geneva, Switzerland following the religious tension in France at the time. The printing company continued for many years.

The CBB listing of the book lists Bernard Salomon as the illustrator of the wood cut illustrations that are on every page of the boo. Further research shows that Bernard Salomon worked closely with the de Tournes printing company and was the official illustrator from 1547 onwards so it is likely that this information is correct. He has about 230 works in over 580 publications and some of his works now are on display in the MET. He illustrated many copies of the Bible, a lot were in a similar style to this one, and a lot of his work is still being published posthumously even today. He worked closely with the de Tournes family and company and like them his work was more specialist and catered to an upper-class audience.

Of course, we couldn’t discuss this book without talking about Willem Borluut the author of the book. A Dutch man born in 1535, he was only twenty-two when this book was published, and all his work was published between 1557 and 1559. Willem Borluut published books in four different languages; Latin, Dutch, German, and French and like Salomon and de Tournes the majority of his work was very specialist. My pet book was originally published in two parts Ghesneden Figvren Vvyten Ouden Testamente naer tleuene met huerlier bedietsele and Ghesneden Figvren Vvyten Nieuvven Testamente naer tleuene met huerlier bedietsele. The Old Testament and the New Testament were bound together at a later date as shown in the CBB listing and I believe there are a few pages missing at the end as there is no printer’s mark at the end of the book but there is one in the middle, at the end of the New Testament. There is no page numbering in the book, so the easiest way to tell that it is two separate books is to look at the two title pages as the first says “ouden” (old) while the one in the middle says “nieuvven” (new). Similarly, the start of the Bible illustrations opens with “Genes” (Genesis) which is the start of the Old Testament and the second section opens with the four gospels which is the start of the New Testament. Borluut does not have seemed to have published many texts and it appears that the majority of the copies of my book that are still in existence were not bound into one copy and exist in the separate testaments.

What I think is most interesting about my book is that it was a Dutch text published in France and I’m very curious as to why this was. My major theory as to why this was combines the Protestant reformation with the development of printing in the Netherlands. In the fifty years preceding the publication of my book (1501-1550) there were only 1045 books published in the Netherlands as opposed to 34,736 books published in France. In short there was just a larger printing industry in the Netherlands which suggests that it was more plausible for Borluut to get his book published there. Similarly, there were not many editions of the Bible published in Dutch at all at this time and the Protestant reformation was well underway in the Netherlands. For context, Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses was published in 1517, only forty-two years before this Bible edition was published. It is also important to acknowledge that the European borders that we think of today would not have been the same during the middle ages, in fact the Netherlands was not even it’s own kingdom in 1557 and was a part of the Burgundy Empire. The flexibility of nationality during this period suggests that languages are not confined to countries and that there were ideas traveling between empires. Although I’m not entirely sure why a Dutch text was published in France in 1557, the fact that the French printing industry was more well-established than the Dutch, that de Tournes (and probably Borluut) were new converts to protestantism, that there was not even a defined Dutch identity at the time, and that there was a rise in desire to have a Bible printed in the vernacular make sense as to why this book came into existence.

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