The Gutenberg bible
THIS CONTENT IS ALSO AVAILABLE IN INSPIRE ISSUE 41 FROM 2012
Even from its humble beginnings, printing was practised as a true art form. The earliest remaining printed artefacts are clay tablets from the Mesopotamian civilization more than 5,000 years ago, made with round cylinder seals and featuring beautiful images. After clay came cloth: woodblock printing was first done on cloth and only later on paper. The Chinese were the first to come up with both processes during the Han and Tang dynasties, several centuries before Johannes Gutenberg came into the picture.
So what exactly was Johannes Gutenberg’s contribution to the art of printing? In the 1400’s, this German goldsmith combined the use of movable type with a wooden screw press similar to ones used to press grapes for wine. The result was a mechanical printing process adapted for the Roman alphabet you are reading right now. His invention laid the basis for the scientific revolution and the spread of learning to the masses. But Gutenberg wasn’t all about technology. His Gutenberg Bible is still considered an aesthetic masterpiece, and it had an unquestionable impact on how our fashion magazines and art books look today.
The earliest woodblock printed fragments to survive are from China: silk printed with flowers in three colours from around 220 AD. The Chinese were also the first to apply the process to print solid text on paper (another Chinese invention), which happened around 600 AD, as far as we can tell from surviving early books.