learning to be wise

It’s that time of year again: another semester and more learning and teaching to be done! In honor, once again, of all of us involved in those activities, here’s a look another book that will help us “learn to be wise.”

Last fall, the book with which I started off the semester was a copy of Lily’s Grammar, the standard Latin textbook of the period. I’m not sure if that book will exactly help you to be wise, although it was certainly used to help you master your early modern Latin. This time, the book I’m focusing on is Johann Comenius’s Orbis sensualium pictus, or, A World of Things Obvious to the Senses Drawn in Pictures. Comenius’s book, first published in 1658 in Latin and German, is often described as the first children’s picture book. His intent was to teach children not only how to read, but how to be wise. § continue reading

Cranach Press Hamlet

On my last post about woodcuts, I promised some beautiful twentieth-century ones, so here you are:

This is the opening to a German book arts press edition of Hamlet, printed in 1928 by Count Harry Kessler’s Cranach Press in Weimar. The book consists of Gerhart Hauptman’s translation of the second quarto of Shakespeare’s play, surrounded by the relevant source texts of Saxo Grammaticus and Francois de Belleforest. Throughout the book are beautiful woodcuts done specifically for this edition by Edward Gordon Craig. (A second version of this book, with the play in English, was printed in 1930.)


The Cranach Press Hamlet does a remarkable job of using the woodcuts not simply to illustrate but to interact with the text and to perform its meanings through shaping the look of page. Notice how the nervous guards huddle against the majuscule “W” in the opening scene, while the form of the Ghost lurks on the far right of the text. § continue reading

more woodcuts


Last time I posted a picture of the big, full-page woodcut facing the first page of Genesis from the 1527 Latin Bible. There is another full-page woodcut in the Bible, facing the first page of the New Testament. But there are also lots of small woodcuts that appear at the heads of books and initial woodcuts that appear (sometimes) at the start of chapters.

Here is an example of both of those. The one on top–God with kneeling angels on either side–appears at the top of the page, on the left-hand column of text, just before the summary of the chapter. Below it is a smaller, square woodcut illustrating another moment of God’s creation of the world. (According to Baudrier’s Bibliographie Lyonnaise, these woodcuts were not designed by the master who did the full-page one, but by G. Leroy.)

I mentioned last time that woodcuts were investments that were often reused in the same or in different books. § continue reading


It’s been a while since I turned to the 1527 Bible, but we’re not done exploring yet. We still have to look at one of its most striking features: the full-page woodcut. Go back and look at previous blogs on the book if you want to see it in context of the page opening. It’s opposite the beginning of Genesis–a fitting choice for a depiction of God creating the world. Above is the woodcut itself, ready to be admired. It’s a beautiful picture.

According to the Bibliographie Lyonnaise (a monumental bibliography and key reference source on early modern books printed in Lyon), the woodcut was made by an artist it refers to only as “the master of the Ars moriendi of Jean Siber.” If you look further in the Bibliographie Lyonnaise and then follow that with research on the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue, you’ll discover that Jean Siber was a Lyonnaise printer associated with an edition of an Ars moriendi that was printed in the early 1490s (there’s some disagreement about whether he was the printer or someone else). § continue reading