Rare Books Online Showcase

This page is dedicated to showcasing some of the interesting works that the University Library's Special Collections has to offer. Past features can be found in the Rare Books Online Showcase Archive. To explore our Archival collections, please visit our Archives Online Showcase.

May 2014: Illustrating moveable type

Guest Feature by Dr. Sandra Herron

The use of woodcuts to illustrate moveable type books is credited to Albrecht Pfister, a printer based in Bamberg who inserted wood blocks beside the text.[1] This combination was quickly adopted as woodblocks and moveable letters could be printed on the same press, unlike the intaglio images which had to be printed separately. The rapid rise in popularity of illustrated books was due in part to the flourishing printmaking industry in fifteenth century Germany.

The purpose of images such as the ones in this exhibit was to amplify and support the text not to produce individual works of art.[2] The efficacy of images to persuade the viewer was based on an established visual vocabulary, the reading and understanding of which could then be directed by the accompanying text. The value of images to accompany and support text in order to present a specific message was understood and employed in both religious and secular works, dating from the outset of printing. This can be seen for example in placards --handbills or broadsheets which were used for both religious subject matter such as the Protestant polemic, but also political subject matter to both prescribe behaviour and inform the citizenry.[3] To fill the printing houses’ demand for images, schools of illustrators grew up in great publishing centres, and both influenced and were influenced by other artistic mediums and by local techniques and styles.[4] The mobile nature of both the printed impressions and the printing medium of woodcut blocks and intaglio plates played a central role in the diffusion of regional styles, compositions and symbolic visual interpretations throughout Europe

Verdicus Christianus

Religious texts

Jan David, Veridicus Christianus

 Printed by Jan Moretus at the Plantijnsche printing house in Antwerp in 1606, the work represents a complicated teaching manual for Christian living that utilizes complex intaglio images to represent and visually realize the text. The Veridicvs Christianvs was written by the Jesuit Jan David, principal of the Jesuit schools at Courtrai and Ghent. The 100 images of this work are presented as emblems. The Emblem is a combination of image and text that together form a specific message. Emblems contain three parts, a Latin title or motto, an image or device, and a short often moralizing and explanatory text which is sometimes in Latin but more frequently in the vernacular. Emblems were meant to convey a message which could be rhetorical, glorifying, intellectual, or, most often moral.

The copper plates were etched and engraved by Théodore Galle of the well-known and respected Antwerp Galle family of printmakers. The images consist of a Latin title presenting the subject, an allegorical image, and explanatory verses below in Latin, Dutch and French. The images incorporate letters that are keyed to the text, thus encouraging interaction between the two elements. This image presents the moral lesson of the means by which sin, represented by death, enters the thoughts of the individual, reminding the individual to renew and ‘cleanse’ the mind through approved teaching and meditation. Examples pictured are Eve (A), who was tempted through hearing deception, and King David (E) who was tempted by seeing Bathsheba bathing.

De limitation de Iesvs-Christ: divise en quatre livres

Thomas a Kempis, De limitation de Iesvs-Christ: divise en quatre livres

The Imitation of Christ is attributed to Thomas a Kempis. This French translation of was printed by François Muguet in Paris. The Imitatio Christi was a devotional manual printed in four parts that emerged out of the Devotio Moderno spiritual movement, and was influential on a number of following spiritual movements. The text focusses on the spiritual development and growth of the individual. This work consists of five etched and engraved images by the Paris based engraver Pierre Bertrand. Apart from the allegorical image on the title-page, the images present narrative scenes of significant events of the passion of Christ.

The etching facing book three presents a common image of the crucified Christ, with Mary to his right, and John the Apostle to his left. The hill of Golgotha is indicated by the skull at the base of the cross. Mary is presented with a sword piercing her heart indicating the Lady of Sorrows, as described by the prophecy of Simeon in Luke 2:25-35, specifically verse 35 stating: “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed.” This is the longest of the four books and is written as a dialogue between Jesus and the disciple. It emphasises the hope and the promise of comfort gained through offering oneself to the divine. This promise is encapsulated in the image of the crucifixion where Christ is depicted giving his life for humanity, his death represented by the outpouring of blood and water from his side.

Church of England

Church of England, The book of common prayer and administration of the sacraments : and other rites and ceremonies of the church, according to the use of the Church of England : together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, pointed as they are to be sung or said in churches : and the form and manner of making, ordaining, and consecrating of bishops, priests, and deacons

This edition of the Book of Common Prayer was printed by John Field, printer to the University of Cambridge, in 1662. This title was first printed in 1549, and has gone through numerous editions. A result of the English Reformation, this work represents the forms of service, prayers, Old and New Testament readings and Psalms and canticles to be said or sung for the Anglican Church. The 1662 edition was the first printed edition following the restoration of the monarchy, and was to become the official version used and spread worldwide through the growth of the British Empire.

The subject of this etching is the temptations of Christ in the wilderness. His temptations acknowledge those of everyman. This image shows all three temptations as found in Matthew 4:3-12, illustrating the narrative as the eye moves from the centre across the foreground figures, then following the line from the devil up the mountain and across to the two temptations in the background. This episode demonstrated that though Jesus was approved by God, he was still subject to trial prior to entering his public work. The devil is identified, with horns on his head and claws rather than feet. The composition of the image has direct influences from earlier printed works, such as printmaker Lukas van Leyden’s 1518 single sheet image of the Temptation, and the Rosario della Gloriosa Vergine Maria, written for the confraternity of the Rosary first published in 1522.

New Biblia

A new Biblia pauperum containeing xxxviii pictures concerning the life / parables / vertues & seyenges of our Lord & sauyour ihesu Christ  

This title was published by the Unwin Brothers in London in 1877, in recognition of the quincentenary of Wycliffe’s translation of the New Testament and quatrocentenary of Caxton’s first printed book in England. The text is taken from the 1525 edition of Wycliffe’s New Testament and the blocks date from the late 15th century, but they have no known direct connection with the text. The printing and binding of this book replicates the style of both the xylographic printing of block books (printed on one side of the paper) and binding techniques contemporary with Caxton. The Biblia Pauperum presents the complex subject of salvation condensed in a narrative of image and text. The typology used in the Biblia Pauperum was a way of viewing the world and its history as a unified story under the direction of God, popular in early Christianity as a means of creating parallels between the Old and New Testaments. This particular rendering of the Biblia Pauperum differs in that the images and the text were created separately with separate intended functions.

The text chosen to accompany this woodcut is a selection from the gospels of the New Testament, that reference the image, from the return of the resurrected Christ above to the disciples acting out in his name below. An example is the text stating: “In my name/thei schuly caste out feendis” or “In my name they shall cast out devils” Mark 6:17, referencing the small black figure in the lower right.

Die Sitten Die Sitten

Literature texts

François-Vincent Toussaint, Die Sitten : aus dem Französischen übersetzt

Pulished in Frankfurt and Leipzig in 1751, Die Sitten is a translation of a novel originally published in 1748 titled Les Moeurs, (The Manners). The satiric novel that did not shy away from criticism of behaviour in even upper social circles created a scandal in France, and was considered a book that could lead to regicide. In 1763 Toussaint published an explanation, stating that the book was not at all offensive, and that everyone was mistaken. However this did not improve his reputation.

As with the majority of printed images found in books, the artist is not identified. The etched frontispiece presents an allegory of truth representative of Toussaint’s goals. In this image truth points to light, represented here as the light of God (who embodies truth itself), which overcomes, and unmasks falsehood. Symbolic of her dominance over falsehood, her foot rests upon his chest.

Erasmi Roterodami

Erasmus, Desiderius, Des. Erasmi Roterodami Colloquia, cum notis selectis variorum, addito indice novo. Accurante Corn. Schrevelio

Printed by Blaviana printing house in Amsterdam in 1693, this edition contains an added index, and corrections by Corneils Schrevel. The Colloquia is a collection of dialogues on a variety of topics. Erasmus presents numerous topics with criticism tempered by humour, often poking fun at otherwise serious topics. Due to the approach to the topics and the humorous nature of this work it has been in continuous use as Latin study material.

This etched and engraved title page depicts the notion of the reactions of others in conversation as presented in the text. The artist is identified through the letters ‘Sc’ (meaning Sculpsit), as simply P.P.  Pictured here are four men deep in conversation, the span of the conversations as indicated by the title is depicted through the various books, both on the table and against the wall. The globe further indicates the breadth of topics.

Desiderisu Erasmus' Moriae encomium : sive, Stultitiae laus

Erasmus, Desiderius, Moriae encomium : sive, Stultitiae laus / des. Erasmi Rot., declamatio ; cum commentariis Gerardi Listrii ; ineditis Oswaldi Molitoris et Figuris Johannis Holbenii

This Latin title was printed by the Basel printer J.J. Thurneisen in 1780. It is better known by its English title, In Praise of Folly. In Praise of Folly is a satirical work that focusses on the figure of folly who through a series of orations praises foolish behaviour and vices. It also directed criticism towards abusive practices in the Catholic Church, and as such became an instrument in the early stages of the Protestant Reformation. The tone of the work is representative of the humanists containing both classical allusions and a rhetorical style reminiscent of ancient writers.

This title reproduced the images designed by Hans (Johannis) Holbein, which are the most famous of the illustrations used for the Praise of Folly. This image here is the foolish child of a wise man. The text states: “For these kind of men that are so given up to the study of wisdom are generally most unfortunate, but chiefly in their children; Nature, it seems, so providently ordering it, lest this mischief of wisdom should spread further among mankind.” Moriae Encomium, John Wilson, trans. 1668. Foolishness is visually identified by the jester’s hat, which alludes to not only the foolish nature of the jester, but also his ignorance that is mistaken for wisdom. The figure of the jester, often identified by his hat was not simply one of amusement, but also carried a generally negative and cautionary connotation.

Biographical curiousities, or, various pictures of human nature: containing original and authentick memoirs of Daniel Dancer, Esq. an extraordinary miser &c. &c.

Biographical curiosities, or, various pictures of human nature: containing original and authentick memoirs of Daniel Dancer, Esq. an extraordinary miser &c. &c.

Printed in London for James Ridgway in 1797, this work presents a number of known figures describing their oddities and unusual behaviours. The first figure described is that of the title, Daniel Dancer, a notorious miser.

This etched and engraved frontispiece designed and engraved by J. King, visually portrays the description of Dancer in the text. He was said to have lived in a tumble down house, in seclusion and rigid penury. He avoided spending money to the extent that he ate only one simple meal a day, and purchased one shirt a year, but otherwise bound his feet and body with hay bands to act as footwear and a coat. He is presented in rags, and hoarding his coins in front of an unlit fireplace. Below the framed image shows further implication of Dancer’s miserly actions, a chest of wealth, shown as buried, ostensibly to protect it. Although he lived parsimoniously, he was known to have the utmost integrity in business dealings, and to prove his appreciation for service in a practical way.

Luciani Samosatensis colloquia selecta, & Timon, Cebetis Thebani Tabula

Lucian, of Samosata, Luciani Samosatensis Colloquia selecta, & Timon, Cebetis Thebani Tabula. Menandri Sententiae morales: Graeca & Latine/ Colloquia Luciani & Timonem notis illustravit Tiberius Hemsterhuis

This title, printed by the Amsterdam printer Wetstenios in 1708, contains a selection of texts from the humorous to the philosophical.

This anonymously produced etching assembles a number of the figures from the writings of Lucian, depicting in part follies and vices of humans that Lucian satirized, such as bargaining with the Gods with sacrifices, telling and listening to stories, and vices such as gluttony, avarice and lust.

C. lvlii Caesaris Commentarii ab aldo Manvtio Pavlii F. Aldi N. in hac postrema editione emendati atque correcti

History texts

Julius Caesar, C. Ivlii Caesaris Commentarii ab Aldo Manvtio Pavlli F. Aldi N. in hac postrema editione emendati atque correcti: Ad Illustriss. Dom. D. Antonivm bragadenvm taruisij Praetorum, & capitaneum

This copy of Caesar’s commentaries on the civil war was printed in Venice by Damiani Turlini Bibliopolae Brixiensis in 1642. This work comments on the Roman civil war during 49-48 BC. Criticism of the work relates to its particular bias and lack of details of military maneouvers and events.

The unidentified artist created a number of woodcuts presenting various strategic military defences. This straight-forward and informative illustration presents a miliary fortification with letters to direct the viewer to the accompanying explanatory descriptions.

Lucan, Pharsalia: M. Annaei Lucani Pharsalia: sive, De bello civili Caesaris et Pompeii, lib. X/ additae sunt in fine Hugonis Grotii notae ex binis antehac editis junctae, auctae, correctae; et Thomae Farnabii in margine, etc

M. Annaei Lucani PharsalieaKnown simply as Pharsalia, this work is an epic poem about the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey. This work was printed in Amsterdam by Joannem Blaeuw in 1665. An epic poem, the Pharsalia is written in a collection of ten books. Although an epic poem focussed on historic events, this work presents both the history of the civil war, and the implications of it. The poem presents the violence and horrors of war. Lucan also presented the characters as flawed rather than purely heroic.

This etched and engraved title page presents two figures, both Roman, and both military, however only one wears the laurel wreath of victory. Above the figures are Roman standards, symbolic of the involvement of the legions in the civil war. Above both figures is the female figure of Rome. The artist, as with the majority of book plates, is not identified.

Histoire de la décadence de l'Empire après Charlemagne et des différends des empereurs avec les Papes au sujet des investitures, & de l'indépendance

Louis Maimbourg, Histoire de la décadence de l'Empire après Charlemagne et des différends des empereurs avec les Papes au sujet des investitures, & de l'indépendance, par le P. Louis Maimbourg

This history of the Roman Empire after Charlemagne was published in Paris by Chez Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy in 1681. Maimbourg was a Jesuit writer who wrote on a number of topics that affected the Church, such as iconoclasm and the schism. However his writings favoured the Gallican Church rather than Rome, resulting in his eventual removal from the Jesuit order. Although well written, his works are considered inaccurate, and this particular title was placed on the “Index of Forbidden Books”.

This etched and engraved title page alludes to the decline of the Roman Empire with such visual devices as the imperial eagle losing its feathers, and the standard in tatters. The formerly proud statue of the emperor has fallen and lies broken around the base of the statue. The artist is unidentified.

William Howell, Medulla historiæ anglicanæ. The ancient and present state of England. Being a compendious history of all its monarchs, from the time of Julius Cæsar, to the accession of his present Majesty George III. Written by Dr. Howell. And continued by an impartial hand

Medulla historiæ anglicanæ. The ancient and present state of England. Being a compendious history of all its monarchs, from the time of Julius Cæsar, to the accession of his present Majesty George III

This history of England was printed in London by T. Osborne in 1666. It presents a history of Britain through tracing the monarchs from the time of Julius Caesar up to its printing date. The later editions included additional material up to the edition date. Howell, a historian and civil lawyer, wrote this work in the style of a chronicle, relating events the chronicler deemed as important, presented within the framework with his own particular bias and beliefs.

These partly allegorical partly narrative etchings by J. Cole, refer to the Glorious Revolution, when in 1688 William of Orange and his fleet crossed the English Channel to claim the English throne for himself and his wife Mary, Protestant Grandchildren of Charles I. The first image is titled Britannia enthrall’d by Popery & Power, is releiv’d by K. William, presenting the seated Britannia bound by chains held by a Catholic priest, standing beside the Catholic James II. The fleet and army of William of Orange can be seen behind William who is pictured demanding James to surrender and throw down his weapons. The lower etching titled Britannia Crown’d by Victory & attended by Plenty & Commerce. Holds in chains Envy Fraud Tyranny & Ambition, depicts one of the two armed clashes between the Armies of William III and James II. Britannia is no longer depicted bound, but rather holds chains that bind James II, Envy, Fraud and Tyranny who are sitting at her feet. Behind her are pictured the figures of Victory, Plenty and Commerce.

An historical account of Thomas Sutton esq, and of his foundation in Charter-house by Philip Bearcroft

Phillip Bearcroft, An historical account of Thomas Sutton esq, and of his foundation in Charter-house by Philip Bearcroft

Printed in London by E. Owen in 1737, this work presents a history of Sir Thomas Sutton and his founding of the Charterhouse school. Sutton was a civil servant, extensive landowner and well-known moneylender who upon his death left a legacy to found a chapel, hospital (almshouse) and school on his property near the City of London off Charterhouse square.

This etched and engraved aerial view of the Charter house at its founding location on Charterhouse square was engraved by the prolific English engraver, writer and antiquary George Vertue. Vertue was the official engraver for the Society of Antiquaries, and as such most of his representations are regarded as accurate. The image presents the means by which images larger than the folio pages were bound and folded into the book. An image of Sutton’s Tomb is also located in the text, and it is likewise folded to accompany its size.

Dr. Sandra Herron recently completed her PhD through Interdisciplinary Studies at the U of S, and is a sessional lecturer for the Department of Art and Art History. She works primarily with prints and visual culture, having completed her M.A. at University College London on the History of Printmaking. Her current interest is on prints in books, delving into the historical development and use of images in conjunction with text and the resultant relationships. Her PhD considers the relationships between images and text in Catholic devotional books printed in city of Münster, Germany in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, focussing on how the image/text relationship guides the viewer to a specific Catholic reading, and additionally reveals the greater historical and religious developments.


[1] Lucien Febvre, Henri-Jean, Martin, The Coming of the Book The Impact of Printing 1450-1800, (London: NLB,1976), 90.

[2] Febvre, The Coming of the Book, 91.

[3] Christian Jouhaud, “Readability and Persuasion: Political Handbills”, Roger Chartier, ed, The Culture of Print: Power and the Uses of Print in Early Modern Europe, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), 235.

[4] Febvre, The Coming of the Book, 92.



January 2014: Sacred Texts of Hinduism and Buddhism - The Bhagavad Gita and Tripitaka

Gita  Tripitaka

The University Library has recently added two devotional texts to its special collections. The first is the Bhagavad Gita, which is a summary of the core beliefs of Hinduism. IGitat is told as a dialogue between Lord Sri Krishna and the archer Arjuna, who is loathe to fight a war in which his family and friends are on the opposing side. The battle is a symbol of the struggle between good and evil. Krishna counsels Arjuna to surrender to Him in devotional service. The Bhagavad Gita has had a significant influence far beyond Hinduism.

Bhagavad Gita

The copy pictured here was donated by former University of Saskatchewan employee Sarv Lakhanpal whose grandfather transcribed the Gita in Sanskrit in a small devotional copy.Although this copy has seen some damage over the years,  the quality of its craftmanship is seen in its clearly preserved and carefully transcribed text.

The second devotional text the University's Special Collections has received is the Tripitaka, the sacred book of the Buddha's teachings. The library's copy is transcribed in Pali language on long thin leaves of plant fibre laced to two red boards of thick wood. The approximate date is 1868.


For a few hundred years after Buddha's death in the mid-fifth century BCE, his teachings were transmitted orally. In the 2nd century BCE the teachings began to be written down and were eventually codified into the Tripitaka canon in Pali language which was then more widely understood. The Tripitaka has since been translated into many other languages.text

Tripitaka means "three baskets" because the text was written on long narrow leaves which were sewn together and stored in baskets.

The Vinaya Pitaka (Discipline Basket) was recalled by a monk named Upali. It deals with rules and regulations for the monastic community (the Sangha ) of monks and nuns. Most of these rules derive from the Buddha's suggestions for harmony in the community and with the laity.

The Sutra Pitaka (Discourse Basket) was recited by Ananda, Buddha's cousin and closest companion. It contains the central teachings of Theravada Buddhism, including Buddha's teachings and sermons on doctrine and behaviour, focusing especially on meditation techniques.

The Abhidhamma Pitaka (Higher Knowledge or Special Teachings Basket) was recited by Mahakashyapa, the Buddha's successor. It is essentially a collection of miscellaneous writings, including songs, poetry and stories of the Buddha and his past lives. Its primary subjects are Buddhist philosophy and psychology.

The University of Saskatchewan's Archives and Special Collections is excited to receive these highly significant and beautifully crafted texts as part of our collection. Other such texts within our holdings include:

  • The Book of common prayer and administration of the sacraments : and other rites and ceremonies of the church, according to the use of the Church of England : together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, pointed as they are to be sung or said in churches : and the form and manner of making, ordaining, and consecrating of bishops, priests, and deacons. Cambridge : Printed by John Field, 1662. (Call Number:  BX5145 .A4 1662).
  • Millar, Eric George. The Luttrell psalter : two plates in colour and one hundred and eighty-three in monochrome from the Additional manuscript 42130 in the British museum.. London : Printed for the Trustees, 1932. (Call Number: ND3357 .L97C3).
  • Bloomfield, Leonard. Sacred stories of the Sweet Grass Cree.  Saskatoon : Fifth House, 1993. (Call Number: PM989 .B65S 1993).
  • Dooling, D. M. The Sons of the wind : the sacred stories of the Lakota. [San Francisco] : HarperSanFrancisco, 1992. (Call Number:  E99 .O.3S6613 1992)
  • The Holy Qur'an / translation and commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Durban : Islamic Propagation Centre International, 1946. (Call Number:  BP109 .A42 1946)
  • The Holy Bible , containing the Old Testament and the Nevv : vevvly translated out of the original tongues, and with the former translations diligently compared and reuised : by His Maiesties special commandement : appointed to bee read in churches. London : R. Barker and assignes J. Bill, 1633 (Call Number: BS 170 1633)
  • Lacombe, Albert. Cree Catechism. (Call Number: BX1958 .C9L14 1880 )

Comments to: University Archives & Special Collections (ua.sc@usask.ca)