The Exhibition draws on the extensive research of a five year project to catalogue the University of Glasgow’s collection of fifteenth century printed books and gives you a background to each of the books as well as explaining how they were produced, collected and then bequeathed to the University.
The exhibition space is dimly lit, which is to preserve the books, but the accompanying text panels are well lit and a clever use of mirrors allows you to see many of the ornate covers and bindings hidden beneath.
My particular favourites included the Roman Breviary, the Calendar and the Canon of Medicine. A Breviary is a liturgical book which contains prayers, hymns, psalms and readings for everyday use by both the clergy and the laity. This one was printed in Venice in 1478 and was a special luxury copy printed on vellum and beautifully decorated. It is believed to have been produced as a gift for Leonardo Botta, the Milanese ambassador to Venice, and the detailed images and brilliant colours are as impressive today as when they were created. The Kalendarium (Calendar) by Erhard Ratdolt was also produced in Venice but the printer was German and he had moved to Venice attracted by the thriving intellectual scene. He produced technically innovative publications and this calendar includes paper wheels which can still be turned today to show the motion of the moon. The Canon of Medicine was an encyclopaedia of medicine compiled around 1025 by a Persian philosopher known as Avicenna. Originally written in Arabic it was translated into many languages and it’s one of the most famous books in the history of medicine. This copy too was printed in Venice and its decoration, known as illuminations, are by an artist known as Pico Master and are extremely lavish. There are also many annotations (or notes) written next to the text throughout the book so it was obviously well used.
The aim of the project was to promote this collection to a wider audience and I’m convinced this has been achieved. Many of the people I know who have visited the exhibition are not academics but are book lovers keen to look at early versions of their much beloved pursuit of reading. The information provided between each set of books is detailed and informative and I came away with a greater understanding of both the production as well as subject matter of early printed books. I also earned that very early printed books, produced in the fifteenth century, are known as incunables and was able to look at a working model of an early printing press.
As I said earlier, I loved it and I am sure you will too.
Visit before it closes on 21 June. Admission is free so spend your saved cash on the gorgeous accompanying catalogue.
Let us know your thoughts if you’ve visited.