The Art of the Book:
500 Years of Printing, Illustration, and Bookbinding

Art of the Book

January - May 28, 1999

The Division of Rare and Manuscript collections in the Carl A. Kroch Library is currently showing an exhibition on the history of the printed book, covering 500 years of typography, book illustration, and bookbinding. The exhibition begins with Johann Gutenberg, the inventor of printing from moveable metal type in 1455, and chronicles some of the principal innovations in the history of book design through the early 20th century.

The exhibition serves as a visual introduction to the artifactual book and its history. The work of some of the most influential typographers and book designers of the past 500 years are on display, as well as several spectacular modern artists' books. But the exhibition also presents more utilitarian examples of printing, emphasizing connections between political and social upheavals‹such as the advent of the industrial revolution‹and how the appearance of the printed page changed over time. Several classes are taking advantage of the exhibition as a teaching tool during the Spring 1999 semester, including a Cornell University Freshman Writing Seminar called "Information Revolutions: from Medieval Manuscripts to Virtual Texts", and a science course which examines the physical anthropology of a variety of cultures and objects‹including the book.

Highlights of the exhibition include a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible itself, and other specimens of early printing, such as Aristotle's Works, the first major piece of Greek prose printed in its original language, published in Venice by Aldus Manutius in 1495-1498, and a book printed by England's first printer, William Caxton, in 1482.

Contained within the history of the book is the history of book illustration. Illustrated books on display include what is commonly considered one of the most beautiful books of the Italian Renaissance, Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, printed in 1499, as well as a lushly engraved edition of Milton's Paradise Lost published in 1688, and Geoffrey Chaucer's Works, published by William Morris at his Kelmscott Press in 1896 with 87 wood-engraved illustrations designed by Edward Burne-Jones.

The art and the craft of bookbinding is not something that many people are aware of, but the Kroch Library's rare book collections contain fascinating examples from the period when bookbindings were made from silver, or from leather tooled in gold. Books were not commonly sold pre-bound until the early 19th century, when developments in manufacturing techniques allowed for the invention of publishers book cloth, which is still how we most often find books bound in the present day.

"The Art of the Book" is on display in the Kroch Library Exhibition Gallery through May 28, 1999. Viewing hours are Monday ­ Friday from 9:00 to 5:00, and on Saturday afternoons from 1:00 to 5:00 pm while classes are in session. For further information, contact the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections at 607-255-3530, or complete our reference form.

Exhibition curated by Katherine Reagan, Acting Curator of Rare Books.