Cambridge Illuminations

26 July to 11 December 2005
At Cambridge University Library and the Fitzwilliam Museum




The Painted Printed Book

At the University Library

Lucius Coelius Firmianus Lactantius: Opera, Subiaco [Conradus Sweynheym and Arnoldus Pannartz], 29 October 1465, one of three or four books printed at Italy's first press. CUL Inc. 1356

The art of illumination experienced its last flowering on the pages of the first printed books. The large number of books placed on the market by the new technology presented artists with numerous job opportunities well into the sixteenth century.

In its early days printing was a risky enterprise, requiring substantial investment. To appeal to patrons, the early printers produced elaborate editions on vellum, modelled on deluxe illuminated manuscripts. Among the most daring and entrepreneurial printers was Nicolas Jenson, who transformed the new technology into an art. Designing the most elegant of Roman types, he involved leading artists and wealthy bibliophiles in the production of the most opulent incunables in fifteenth-century Venice. Their achievements encapsulate one of the most glorious moments in this critical, transitional stage in the history of the book.