Word Made Print: Reformation and the History of the Book

Before the Reformation

Until the invention of printing, books were expensive, out of reach for most people, even the literate. The mechanical reproduction of text created new markets and transformed books into commodities. The new technology also generated new practices, such as title pages. But printing did not necessarily transform content: prior to 1500, most printed books were works that had already circulated in manuscript form. Thus, the classic text of medieval church law, the Decretals, were published by the Basel printer, Johann Froben, in 1494. Years later, Froben published some of Luther’s earliest works. Churchmen seized on the opportunities print offered. Illustrated books of hours (Horae), once the preserve of monastics and the very rich, became available to far larger numbers of laypeople. Small enough to slip into a pocket, the Little Garden of the Soul (Hortulus Animae) appeared in more than a hundred Latin, German and other vernacular print editions between 1498 and 1523.

Decretalium Libri V
Decretalium Libri V
Decretales
Decretales
Hortulus Animae
Hortulus Animae
Horae Beatae Virginis Mariae
Horae Beatae Virginis Mariae