The Birgittines of The Netherlands: Experimental Printers and Colourists

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)


The transition from manuscript to print technologies was not smooth. This was due in part to the barriers of producing early printed books, which were not only labour-intensive and had high start-up costs (the press, the type, the expertise), but also threatened tradition, which in monasteries might include book-copying as an element of ora et labora. But another hindrance to print was its plainness; though it was efficient, the printing press eliminated much of what people sought from their books. As opposed to sumptuous manuscripts on parchment that were decorated with gold and colours, printing was austere, monochrome and usually on paper that came from an inert vegetal source (flax) rather than a once animated beast. Trading all of these features for cheapness was a hard sell. Moreover, the very cheapness of books threatened the handmade uniqueness that made the manuscript not just an assemblage of text, but a reflection of
its owner. If books could be made in multiples, then recipients would have indistinguishable copies. This could never be said of a manuscript, which was defined by its variability. The result of the transition in the decades flanking 1500 was an era of hybrids, books produced to take advantage of the printing press’s efficiency while preserving the value – material and social – of the manuscript. This article addresses books made in the period of experimentation before the
consolidation of typography in the course of the sixteenth century.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPrinting Colour 1400-1700
Subtitle of host publicationHistories, Techniques, Functions and Reception
EditorsAd Stijnman, Elizabeth Upper, Frans Janssen, Jean Michel Massing, Peter Parshall
Place of PublicationLeiden
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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