Main page > Rare Books > Collection of Bibles > Bibles in National Languages
Rare Books Department

Early Printed Bibles in National Languages

In the 13th-15th centuries, many Christian nations of Europe had manuscripts of the almost full Bible in their native languages, so national versions of the Scriptures soon became available also in printed form.

In early printed Bibles in local languages, woodcut illustrations are a very special feature. Like in the block books, engravings in the early printed publications made the text easier to understand. Latin versions did not contain such engraved illustrations because a student or a priest reading the biblical text for the sermon did not need pictures.

Woodcuts consisted mainly of thick outlines that had to be fill in by hand. Readers can paint a purchased copy themselves, or commission an artist to decorate it.

Biblia [Strassburg: Johann Grüninger, 2.V.1485]. German Bible. Saint Jerome's Preface. aа<sub>2</sub> r. Biblia [Strassburg: Johann Grüninger, 2.V.1485]. Genesis Chapter 41: Joseph, Pharaoh and Butler. ff<sub>4</sub> v. Biblia [Strassburg: Johann Grüninger, 2.V.1485]. Exodus Chapter 8: Fourth Plague of Flies. gg<sub>7</sub> v. Biblia [Strassburg: Johann Grüninger, 2.V.1485]. Judith Chapter 13: Judith with the Head of Holofernes. b<sub>5</sub> v.

As a result, each copy of an edition received its own unique design.

1466 was marked by the appearance of the first printed complete Bible in German. In 1458 or 1459, the pioneering printer Johannes Mentelin established his own printing workshop in Strasbourg, where he issued the second or third edition of the Vulgate - the Latin translation of the Scriptures. However, he is best known, of course, as the publisher of the first printed Bible in the German language.

Biblia [Strassburg: Johann Mentelin, ante 27.VI.1466]. First complete printed Bible in the German language. Saint Jerome's Preface. a<sub>1</sub> r. Biblia [Strassburg: Johann Mentelin, ante 27.VI.1466]. First page in the Genesis. Hand painted. a<sub>4</sub> r. Biblia [Strassburg: Johann Mentelin, ante 27.VI.1466]. First page in the Gospel of Luke. I<sub>9</sub> v.

The Mentelin Bible was reprinted at least 13 times. Misprints were eliminated, but no significant changes were made in the primarily text edition of the Bible. The text was revised only when Gunther Zainer republished the Bible in 1475-1476. Zainer's publication was a remarkable masterpiece of book art, it also became the first printed German Bibles in which pages were numbered. In this edition, all the books of the Bible opens with figurated woodcut initials which depicted various scenes from biblical stories, illustrating the major theme of the Chapter or portraying the evangelists and prophets. Printed initials and ornaments were a printing innovation that glorified Zainer. Simultaneous printing text and images had great significance for the printing business: mechanical reproduction of initials and ornaments gradually made it possible to abandon manual labor, greatly simplifying the job of the publisher and allowed him to expand the production of books for the general reader.

Le Nouveau Testament [Lyon: Barthélemy Buyer, 1477]. Colophon in Latin. I<sub>5</sub> v. Biblia [Augsburg: Johann Otmar (?), 1507]. Third book of Kings: the murder of Joash, king of Judah. ff<sub>7</sub> v. Biblia [Augsburg: Günther Zainer, 1475-1476]. Malachi. Engraved initial. S<sub>3</sub> v. Biblia [Augsburg: Günther Zainer, 1475-1476]. Beginning of Jude. Engraved initial. hh<sub>2</sub> v.