One of the Twelve Remaining Gutenberg Vellum Bibles is Exhibited in Moscow

Last week an exhibition of incunables opened at the Russian State Library in Moscow. There are many notable objects shown there, but arguably the jewel of the show is one of the few remaining Gutenberg Bibles printed on vellum.

Russian State Library is the largest in the country. It has an extensive collection of books, documents, and other media. There even is a Book Museum there. However, the temporary exhibitions at the Ivanovsky Hall are often much more exciting. This time wasn’t an exception. On the two floors of the exhibition space, you can witness the formation of the modern world of printed books. And every part is essential: from the contents of these incunables to the bindings even while some of the elements are later additions.

The Gutenberg Bible: the early modern period exhibition not only displays the very book that arguably started the modern history of the European book printing. You will also find Martin Luther, Albrecht Dürer and other famous historical characters here.

Though the exhibition hall isn’t very large, you don’t need a lot of space for books. Dozens of incunables are exhibited here, and it took us almost two hours to see and discuss each of them. Just a friendly advice: go there well rested and fed. Somewhere in the middle of our tour, we understood that we are starting to get a bit tired and overwhelmed by the beauty and incoming information.

Besides the 42-line Bible, there are many religious, historical, scholarly, educational, and even occult works shown here. Among other things, I found a copy of the 1498 Latin edition of the Ship of Fools by Sebastian Brant. The book, I discussed here at iBookBinding a couple of weeks ago. By coincidence, it was opened at the very same illustration that attracted my attention earlier: The Bibliophile.

Here is another amazing object: a 1545 Bible signed by Martin Luther and his collaborator Philip Melanchthon.

We also spent a lot of time examining the cover decoration of the exhibited books. Especially the metal corners and clasps:

Elements of the 19th-century binding of the vellum Gutenberg Bible from the collection of the Russian State Library

Many of theme are not contemporary to the printing, but they still amaze me!

Breviarium Lateinisch and Gebetbuch. This couple deserves a separate mention. Just check the size difference! And yet, the smaller book has all the same cover decoration elements like the large one!

I was absolutely satisfied by where the curators chose to open most of the books. The spreads either add to the story told by the exhibition or show some fantastic illustrations, including the illuminated initials. I’ll show some examples below, but they definitely deserve a separate more detailed post.

You may see the digitized version of the vellum Gutenberg Bible here:

Some of the other books displayed at the current exhibition are also available on the website of the National Digitized Collection.

History of the Two Russian Gutenberg Bibles

Until 1985, the existence of the two copies of the Gutenberg Bible in the Soviet Union wasn’t announced or confirmed. Even while some of the professionals in the Soviet Union have known about these books, their standing wasn’t widely discussed.

At the end of World War II, books were taken from the German Museum of Books and Writing in Leipzig as a part of the war indemnity and later transferred to the V. I. Lenin State Library of the USSR (current name: Russian State Library).

This is the first time in the Soviet and Russian history that the Gutenberg Bible from the collection of the Russian State Library is exhibited.

More Info

Entry fee: 300 RUB (less than 5 EUR/USD)
Address: Moscow, ul. Vozdvizhenka, 3/5, str.7, entrance from Starovagankovsky pereulok.
Phone: +7 (499) 557-04-70

Exhibition open:
Tue-Sun, 11:00-20:00
April 16 – June 16, 2019

Photography is allowed (without flash).

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