World’s oldest printed objects to join Gutenberg Bible in Beinecke display

Yale’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible, visible since 1963 in a bronze case on the mezzanine of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, is a landmark in the history of the printed word. Today, another landmark from the same date, a 1,250-year-old print of Buddhist prayers – the oldest known printed text that can be reliably dated – is included in the regular display.

Beinecke curators say the updated display offers a broader and more complete story of the human development of printing over the centuries.

The Gutenberg Bible, in two volumes, is the first significant book produced in the West using metal movable type. Johannes Gutenberg’s masterpiece represents a revolution in printing in 15Th– Turn of the century Europe that streamlined the production of books and accelerated the transmission of knowledge around the world.

Even older are the Hyakumantō darani, woodblock prints of a Buddhist sutra that were mass-produced by the Empress Regent Shōtoku after suppressing the Nakamaru Rebellion in Japan between 764 and 770 AD—about 700 years before the Giton. Berg had begun dispersing the two-volume collection. Vulgate at his novel printing press in Mainz, a town in present-day Germany.

The Yale University Library’s East Asia Collection includes several examples of Buddhist sutras, prayer scrolls that were housed in small wooden pagodas and distributed among 10 prominent Buddhist temples near Nara, Japan’s then-capital. To give Beinecke Library visitors a broader view of the history of printing, one of the scrolls and its pagoda container will replace one of two volumes of Yale’s Gutenberg Bible in a display case. The converted volume will be placed in storage and both volumes will rotate in and out of display to promote Bible preservation.

For years, visitors to the Beinecke have marveled at the Gutenberg Bible, and rightly so,” said Michelle Light, university librarian for special collections and director of the Beinecke Library. “The earliest surviving printed By putting a Gutenberg volume in conversation with the material, we are giving the public an opportunity to consider two important historical objects that together will tell a complete story about humanity’s use and development of printing.”

Earliest surviving prints

The scrolls are copies of Durrani, a form of Buddhism. Each of the 10 temples reportedly contains 100,000 scrolls, each encased in a small pagoda. Many pagodas have builder’s marks carved into their layers. The scrolls were likely printed using wooden blocks, although it is possible that at least some were printed from metal plates, according to recent scholarship. Regardless of the method used, the printing of one million prayers and the carving of a similar number of pagodas would have required a small army of artisans, said Ray Clemens, Benick Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts.

A woman is placing items in a glass display case.
Paula Zets, Yale University Library’s assistant chief conservator, prepares to place the prayer scroll and its pagoda container in a display case.

Only one temple scroll has survived into modern times, the Hiryuji Temple outside Nara in the Kansai region of Honshu. Many were given as gifts and many found their way into the antiques market, which made them collectibles around the world, Clemens said.

They’re not rare in the sense that they’re in many library and museum collections, but most people don’t realize they’re the oldest surviving prints,” he said. “They’re just interesting things in their own right. are.”

In 1934, Asakawa Kanchi, professor of history at Yale and founding curator of the university’s Chinese and Japanese collections, acquired the four prayer books and their pagoda with the support of the Yale Association of Japan.

With their addition to regular display, the Hyakumantō darani, an acquisition we’ve long recognized as invaluable to our scholarly community, will finally reach a wider audience. will go,” said Haruko Nakamura, librarian of Japanese studies. Yale

The scrolls and pagodas have already been used in a number of exhibitions as well as scholarly publications, including research by Mimi Yeung Proksavan, professor of art history at Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Additionally, students in courses across disciplines—including courses taught by Edward Commons in the Department of East Asian Languages ​​and Literatures and Daniel Botsman and Valerie Hansen in the Department of History—have had the opportunity to see them during class.

This shift is not just about recognizing the long history of printing in East Asia,” said Botsman, professor of history in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “It also indicates a willingness to think broadly about the achievements and contributions of people at different points and times in human history.

In the 1930s, Professor Asakawa probably wouldn’t have used the language of diversity and inclusion,” Boatsman added. “But as a leading scholar of comparative history, I think this is exactly what he was hoping for when he first brought Hyakumantō darani to Yale. It’s amazing that now it’s for everyone. Will be easily accessible to anyone visiting Benic.

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A wider history of print

Gutenberg printed about 180 copies of the Bible, which first became available around 1455. Hoping to capitalize on the market for luxury goods, he made copies on both paper and vellum. Yale’s copy, printed on paper, is one of only 21 complete copies in existence. Another 28 partial copies remain. (Three surviving vellum copies are housed in the Library of Congress, the British Museum in London, and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.) It is a 42-line Bible, meaning that most pages have two columns of 42 lines each.

Bibles were often donated to monasteries by wealthy laymen. For many years, the Yale copy belonged to the library of the Benedictine Abbey in Melk, Austria. During the economic downturn after World War II, the monks sold their copy to pay for the restoration of the abbey. Philanthropist Mary Stillman Harkness later acquired the Bible and presented it to Yale in memory of her mother-in-law, Anna M. Harkness, who donated money to build the Harkness Memorial Quadrangle.

Even within Europe, Gutenberg’s Bible was not the first book to be printed using movable type. In fact, this is not the first book printed on Gutenberg’s own press. That distinction is his. DonutsA small Latin grammar book for schoolchildren named after its author Aelius Donatus, a teacher of rhetoric and grammar in the mid-fourth century. Only parts of an earlier and less impressive book remain. A piece of the same type used to print the Gutenberg Bible is in the Princeton University Library.

Two pages from a Gutenberg Bible in a Beinecke display case.
Printed by Johannes Gutenberg in about 1455 AD, the Gutenberg Bible is the first significant book produced in the West using metal movable type. The Yale copy is one of only 21 complete copies in existence. The volume on display currently opens to the Book of Exodus when Moses received the Ten Commandments.

The use of movable type predates Gutenberg by centuries. Chinese printers began using porcelain movable type as early as the 1040s. In 12Th Clemens notes that centuries, printers in East Asia began using metal movable type to produce money and eventually books. The oldest surviving book printed with metal movable type is a Korean Buddhist text. JakjiWhich was built in 1377. The only surviving copy is housed in the Bibliothèque Nationale.

The new display at the Beinecke isn’t the first time visitors can contemplate a Gutenberg Bible with an illustration of the Hyakumantō darani. In 2013, both were featured in an exhibit on printing that was part of the 50 Books of the Beneke Library.Th Birthday celebration. The two texts were among those when Benecke’s famous building first opened.

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On October 11, 1963, to mark the occasion, a release from the Yale University News Bureau described the collection’s highlights: “Here in the Beneke Library is the Gutenberg Bible, circa 1455, the first book printed with movable type, and the Book of Psalms. Dated 1640, the first printed in the American colonies. Older than the two are the Japanese prayer scrolls of 8.Th century, which is considered to be the oldest example of type printing in the world.

Clemens said the new display honors Gutenberg’s work, while inspiring a fuller and more dynamic understanding of the history of print.

“No one denies Gutenberg’s very important role in shaping the modern world, but he did not create printing out of whole cloth,” he said. “His genius is inventing a new and more efficient method of printing, but the concept has been around for a long time. We hope to connect the Gutenberg Bible with an important artifact from another culture, and another Representing a larger religious tradition, it will inspire people to want to learn more about both the objects and the fascinating history they represent.”

The Beinecke Library exhibit hall is free and open to the public seven days a week. These collections are accessible to all who register to conduct research in the Reading Room on weekdays, and the Yale Library’s digital collections are all accessible online.

More than 150,000 people come through the revolving doors of the exhibit hall each year,” said Michael Morand, director of community engagement. “The Gutenberg Bible is always a big draw—it’s probably the most visited of any collection at Yale. It is one of the items. On our Celebrity Week tours, we always like to offer context and therefore note other items in the collection, such as the stunning 8Th Century Scrolls Not surprisingly, many people ask if they can see them. Now, happily, they can.

We are really excited that this updated exhibition will attract more visitors in the years to come and encourage them to explore the collections more fully.


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