From Our Research Collection: Vulgate Bible from 1497

The Theology Library has some strong special collections, including our biblical collections. Of course, you may know about the Massachusetts Bible Society Collection, which contains over 4500 items covering 1500 languages into which the Bible or parts have been translated (all, of course, accessible to you by asking a librarian!) Supplementing our biblical collections is the Kimball Bible Collection. This collection is named for Rev. Clyde Kimball, a graduate of the School of Religious Education and the School of Theology, who served as a chaplain in World War II, and was killed at the Battle of the Bulge. In 1947, his widow donated his Bible collection in memory of the three School of Theology graduates who died in the chaplain service: Kimball, George E. Fox, and Raymond L. Hall. Though he began with New England imprints, Kimball’s collection of nearly 150 Bibles has a number of early European imprints that form the core of our antiquarian Bible collection.

Among this collection is a Latin Vulgate Bible published on September 7th, 1497, one of the oldest works in our collection. This 15th century bible is considered “incunable,” from the Latin meaning “swaddling clothes.” It is given that name because of its creation during the infancy of the printing press (which was invented circa 1450).

The front page contains a wood-cut print of Peter holding keys with the inscription “Tu es Petrus…” that is painted with watercolors. This page would be produced by an artisan cutting the illustration in relief on a wood block. Of course, as colored print did not exist at this point, the image was then painted (sometimes, during this era, the book’s purchaser would hire someone for this artistic role).

Furthermore, the initials of a paragraph or chapter were left blank and the printed text: a perfect canvas for an artist to add by add their own flair. This example is from Genesis 1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” and is painted in watercolor, too. Here, the artist (or the patron/owner of the copy) lost interest in finishing the initials, which are left blank for most of the work.

To view this item in our catalog, click here. To view some of our other special collections, visit our special collections page!


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