Another Look at Gutenberg

Another look at Gutenberg

Stephen Eskilson’s “Graphic Design: A New History” gives us limited information on the individual Johannes Gutenberg. The text does mention that the German publisher of the famous Gutenberg Bible was a business minded goldsmith from Mainz. It does also inform us that Gutenberg’s printing press was a modified winepress, that Gutenberg combined elements that others had already invented to create a singular printing machine and that the new technology culminated in an explosion of book printing at significantly reduced speeds. What we don’t learn from Eskilson is who Johannes Gutenberg was, what stroked his curiosity, and even more importantly, how local vernacular contributed to his invention.

Gavin Moodie, in a paper titled Gutenberg’s Effects On Universities raises important points on the role of language in the developing technology. He notes that Latin had been the language of instruction, and retained scholastic prominence half a century after the invention of the printing press. “Latin persisted partly because many languages were rarely learned by foreigners, such as Dutch and even German” (Moodie). That implies that someone interested in any academic exploration had to first become a linguistics student. Not only did such a situation enhance class divisions among peoples, it also curtailed progress in many respects. Disseminators of religious doctrines, for instance, had to translate text from Latin to local vernaculars or their audiences wouldn’t understand.

Bible reading was not part of everyday practice, neither for the clergy nor for the laity. Gutenberg’s incentive to print the Bible must have had its origin in a personal experience outside of his Mainz community.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Gutenberg was the son of a patrician and “exiled from Mainz in the course of a bitter struggle between the guilds of that city and the patricians, Gutenberg moved to Strassburg (now Strasbourg, France) probably between 1428 and 1430.” It was in France that he experimented with printing, and it was there he became aware of divergent ideologies propagated by different priests.

Catholics had a doctrine of penance, where church folks would confess their sins to a priest, who in turn would specify cash amounts required to purchase pardon. Gutenberg came across church reformers, some of whom agitated for a common scriptural text in hopes of unifying the Christian faith. A printed Bible would not only accomplish that objective, but to the entrepreneurial Gutenberg, it held a promise of an international business initiative.

Gutenberg worked on his printing press secretly in Strassburg, only returning to Mainz to borrow money from relatives. On a number of occasions, he defaulted on repayment and was repeatedly charged in court. It’s during court trials that his secret project became public, thereby eliciting the curiosity of other investors. A loan advanced by Johann Fust provided his final breakthrough, for with it he produced close to two hundred high quality Bibles. But that loan was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Defaulting on its payment, Gutenberg was forced to surrender his printing press and half of the printed Bibles to Fust.

gutenberg

Creator: vermeld op object prentmaker: Houbraken, Jacob vermeld op object drukker: Vaillant, Isaac Title: Portretten van J. Gutenberg, J. Fust, L.J. Coster, A. Manutius en J. Froben Titelpagina voor: M. Maittaire. Annales typographici, 1719 Work Type: prent Date: 1719 – 1719 Repository: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Accession Number: RP-P-1910-4225 COLLECT.389125 Subject: Gutenberg, Johannes Fust, Johann Coster, Laurens Jansz. Manutius, Aldus Froben, Johann Collection: Rijksmuseum © Artsor.org

Creator: vermeld op object prentmaker: Houbraken, Jacob
vermeld op object drukker: Vaillant, Isaac
Title: Portretten van J. Gutenberg, J. Fust, L.J. Coster, A. Manutius en J. Froben
Titelpagina voor: M. Maittaire. Annales typographici, 1719
Work Type: prent
Date: 1719 – 1719
Repository: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Accession: Number: RP-P-1910-4225
COLLECT.389125
Subject: Gutenberg, Johannes
Fust, Johann
Coster, Laurens Jansz.
Manutius, Aldus
Froben, Johann
Collection: Rijksmuseum
© Artsor.org

References

“Johannes Gutenberg.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

McQuade, Molly. “Dear Gutenberg.” Booklist 104.18 (2008): 69. Education Source. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

Moodie, Gavin1. “Gutenberg’S Effects On Universities.” History Of Education 43.4 (2014): 450-467. Education Source. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

Salade, Robert F. “The Story Of Gutenberg’s “42-Line” Bible.” America 31.1 (1924): 7-9. Humanities International Complete. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

 

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