Theodor Galle (Flemish, 1571–1633), after Jan van der Straet, called Stradanus (Netherlandish, 1523–1605)
Antwerp: Philips Galle, late 16th century
plate: 7 7/8 x 10 3/8 in. (20 x 26.4 cm), sheet: 9 7/8 x 12 7/8 in. (25.1 x 32.8 cm)
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1934 (34.30 )
The Nova Reperta is a series of engravings after designs by Stradanus that celebrate such wonders of the new age as the discovery of America and the invention of eyeglasses. Among the most significant developments of the age was the use of moveable type and the printing press to produce books in multiple, identical copies. The man who put together the elements that made this process possible was Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz, Germany (ca. 13971468). Gutenberg, like many of the early engravers, had been trained as a goldsmith, and this background must have helped him to devise the metal punches used to create matrixes from which lead characters were cast. This invention made it possible to produce large quantities of type and, along with the development of a stickier ink that would adhere to the metal type and the refinement of existing presses, enabled Gutenberg to produce the first full-length printed book, his famous Bible of 1456.
Here, in plate 4 of the Nova Reperta, we see the steps involved in the printing of early books. On the left side of the image are three compositors who, using the page of text pinned to the wall above them as a guide, assemble the pieces of type stored in their wooden cases (each compartment contains a different character) into lines of text on the small composing stick held in one hand. These lines will then be locked into a framework called a chase; the completed body of text, comprising all the pages that are to be printed together onto one sheet of paper, is known as a forme. If the text were to include woodcut initials, tailpieces, or even large illustrations, the blocks could be fitted into the chase alongside the metal type.
Along the right side of the shop, in the background, we see a pressman who applies ink to the raised surfaces of the letters (and possibly woodblocks) within the forme, using two leather-covered inking balls. In the foreground, an inked forme having been moved into position beneath the platen, another pressman pulls a lever to turn the screw that increases pressure on the platen, pressing the forme against the dampened paper that has been aligned on top of itthe press shown here, however, is in some respects rather archaic for the end of the sixteenth century. Since the type, as well as any woodblocks that are included, stand up in relief, not as much pressure is required as with intaglio printing. After printing, the damp sheets are hung to dry, here between the two presses.
The proofreader, wearing glasses, checks a printed proof for errors. If errors are found, the type can be reset before printing continues. A young apprentice in the central foreground assembles the printed pages in the correct order. On the table behind the proofreader we see either bundles of blank paper or books in their assembled form, before the pages are folded, bound, and cut. Books in this period were normally bound only after purchase and to order.