Last week we visited mid-sixteenth-century Zurich to take a look at an intriguing encyclopedia of animals in Unicorns, Frogs & the Sausage Supper Affair. This week, for the second in our series of Remarkable Renaissance Books, we turn back the clock a couple of decades, and head northwest to Paris to pick up a very different kind of book – a Book of Hours, or Horae (Latin for ‘hours’). During the later Middle Ages, if you owned only one book, then there is a pretty good chance that it was a Book of Hours. These portable, small-format books were essentially prayer books for personal use. They typically open with a calendar of saints’ days and special feasts, followed by, in varying order, lessons from the Gospels, other Bible lessons or excerpts and, the core of the book, The Hours of the Virgin – a selection of prayers to be recited at eight times, or hours, throughout the day.
Recently on Twitter, I’ve been posting some photos of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century books. Some have been retweeted and commented on even more times than my cat pics, which is encouraging. That got me to thinking about a new feature for ILT, Remarkable Renaissance Books: brief posts dedicated to single books from the period 1450–1600. A little about the literary content, authors, typography, illustrations and perhaps even something about the book’s provenance, or history.
On the rare occasions I get to peruse paper and ink books in a brick and mortar bookstore, after a brief flirtation with the cover and blurb, I will scan the table of contents, then gently – for the book is new, the clean pages crisp – thumb through the final leaves until I locate the index, where, if I am familiar with the subject matter, I expect to find, at the very least, the usual suspects. Their absence might well be symptomatic of more profound flaws between the covers; for example, a book titled The History of Psychology, whose index fails to reference, say, Freud, Jung and Mary Whiton Calkins, could safely be passed over in favor of something better.
Humans have written about war and warfare since writing was invented. One of the best known from antiquity is Flavius Vegetius’ late fourth-century, De re militari or ‘Military Science’, repopularized throughout the latter Middle Ages and first printed in c. 1473–74 by Nicolaus Ketelaer and Gerardus de Leempt in Utrecht in the central Netherlands. This edition is entirely without illustrations. It was first published in English translation, in print, by William Caxton in 1489. But despite its early resurgence in print, the sixteenth century saw it replaced by more up-to-date treatises, like, for example, Machiavelli’s The Art of War, first published in Florence in 1521. Machiavelli felt that Italy had, militarily, fallen behind many of its European neighbors, and like all good fascists, he looked back to the revered golden age of Graeco-Roman antiquity for models on the proper conduct of war. His work is especially indebted to that of Polybius (c. 203–120 BC), who in his The Histories described the political and military institutions that had made the Romans so successful.
In late August 2015, Korean type designer Minjoo Ham arrived in Berlin to figure out if the city could offer her an interesting new phase in her life. Minjoo was a fresh graduate from the TypeMedia program at The Hague’s KABK (Royal Art Academy). Berlin, possibly the world’s capital of independent type design, was an agreeable surprise to her. “I came to Berlin for a three months’ trial. I had never thought about moving to Berlin before. What I like most here is the type community and its gatherings, such as the “Typostammtisch” meet-ups. In Korea I barely had friends who were type designers or type geeks; here in Berlin that is very different. Most of my friends here are type-related people. Besides, the Berlin society is quite international. For a foreigner it is very easy to go out and meet new people.” She decided to stay, and is now a hard-working member of the Berlin type scene. And the first 5 months she was a guest at Fust & Friends headquarters, aka Jan’s home office, and designed a display script we called Teddy.
Our earliest ancestors, from deep prehistory, gazed up at the sky in awe. We soon determined through repeated observations that the celestial bodies appear to follow prescribed paths and that their positions in the sky coincided with or produced effects on earth. For the Egyptians, Isis’ tears over the death of Osiris made the Nile rivers swell but this annual flooding could be predicted with considerable precision based on the heliacal rising of the sky’s brightest star, Sirius. Moreover, the sun determined days and nights and years and seasons and regulated the plantings and harvests of agricultural civilization. If the sun, for most of history considered a planet, had such profound effects on the earth and its inhabitants, then it followed, quite reasonably, that the other wandering stars or planets produced similar effects too.
In February of 2016 designer and photographer Alistair Hall tweeted an image of a vintage luggage tag from the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company. I was struck by the type used for the word CABIN. It was heavy and compressed with straight sides and asymmetric stroke contrast reminiscent of American wood type. I saw in it potential – the beginnings of a typeface.