New Acquisitions: Hand-coloured 1589 Luther Bible
Earlier this year the rare books team acquired a significant, and rather pretty, addition to its developing Bible Collection.
This Bible, a 1589 folio production of Luther’s edition, was acquired with generous support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York from the Howell Bible Collection which was being deaccessioned by the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. The Carnegie Corporation awarded the University Library Special Collections Division a generous grant in 2013 for new acquisitions and for the preservation and conservation of our collections, and this new Bible is one of our first major purchases.
The first edition of Luther’s German translation of the Bible appeared in the early 16th century, and its influence and popularity was present throughout the 16th century. Our new 1589 folio edition is lavishly illustrated with woodcuts by Jost Amman and his workshop, and after drawings by Tobias Stimmer and Johann Bocksberger. The workshop artists’ initials include “HS,” “SHF,” and “CM.”
What really caught our eye with the Bible, however, was that the entire work has been professionally hand-coloured by an artist of considerable talent. Hand-colouring of woodcuts in 15th and 16th century printed books is not an uncommon find, yet the quality and extent of the colouring found in this Bible is very impressive. The title page to the volume already invokes a bit of the horror vacui, and the added colouring just pushes that to the extreme.
This new Bible is also retained in a near-contemporary binding, stamped and dated 1594. It has been bound in brown panel calf on bevelled wooden boards, tooled all over in gold and it retains all of its original brass bosses and its two clasps. It also has the initials “GWA” stamped on its upper board. This binding has protected this Bible for several hundred years, and is one of the reasons it still survives in such a good state.
This new addition to the Bible Collection has already been in use for undergraduate and post-graduate classes to demonstrate the different ways illustrations were used in publishing and to discuss the importance of binding and provenance research. A work of this size and beauty is an immediate attention-getter in the classroom and in hands-on sessions, and will continue to support the teaching needs of the University in the future.