Ingenious Impressions: The Coming of the Book

Glasgow University through the auspices of The Hunterian Art Gallery (as apposed to the Hunterian Museum) are holding a fascinating exhibition entitled: Ingenious Impressions: the Coming of the Book.  The University itself introduces the exhibition thus:

The University of Glasgow holds one of the UK’s most important collections of early printed books, or ‘incunabula’, published over the fifty years from the invention of printing in the mid-15th century.
The collection is the largest in Scotland and more than half comes from the library of Hunterian founder Dr William Hunter (1718-83).
Showcasing the University’s rich collections and the results of new research from the Glasgow Incunabula Project, this major exhibition charts the development of the early printed book in Europe, exploring the transition from manuscript to print and its impact on late medieval society.

I am not convinced the exhibition succeeds in the last of those statements, that is,  ‘its impact on late medieval society’ if you simply go in and have a wander round but please don’t let that put you off, for what is on show is wonderful.  From illumination to incredible engravings as fine as anything succeeding centuries produced; from personal annotations to fine art work that would grace any art gallery in its own right; from self written appendices to help make a book more user friendly to desecration of illustrations and information on saints that most probably took place during the reformation.  There is lots to see and I could easily become a bore over it all so I will stick to just one of the many highlights which combines my love of books, with my love of maps, with my love of anything religious, a map of the Holy Land.

Holy Land Map

Each hill and mountain is drawn in and of course, as was the case with just about every Medieval map, Jerusalem is slap bang in the center.  Calvary is of course outside the city wall and there are lots of place names that whilst being slightly different will be recognizable to most readers of the Bible, although the cartography will be found questionable to anyone with even the slightest grasp of the actual landscape of the region.  As always I end up wondering about who drew this, who owned it, what did they think of when they looked at it.  For several of the books the middle of those questions was indeed answered on the accompanying card, but not for this particular book, unfortunately.

You can read about the exhibition here and about the Glasgow Incunabula Project itself here including access to the on-line catalogue, which includes not only information about the books but also some photographs of particular pages and features.  If you are in Glasgow before 21st June I would highly recommend taking a trip up the west-end to spend a few hours with your nose pressed up against the glass that protects these books from the temptation of flipping a page or two.

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