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    Renaissance Prints:
    The 16th Century Technology Revolution
    by Johlene Hess, Editor

    The JMU Fine Arts Collection includes a number of significant works commonly found in university museum collections. The manuscripts and prints were part of a bequest of the late Dr. John Sawhill, who taught Latin, Greek and German at JMU from 1927 to 1957.  The manuscripts and prints are particularly relevant to the study of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque arts.  In late November 2002,  Dr. Kay Arthur, Professor of Art History and Julia Merkel, Curator of JMU's  Fine Arts Collection identified items for a special display in Carrier Library Lobby.  Dr.  Arthur researched and provided details on each item of the exhibit.  

    These items are normally stored in the Special Collections room of Carrier Library, where temperature, humidity and light are carefully controlled for preservation. The exhibit in Carrier Library Lobby was limited to  4 weeks, and exhibited behind UV-film to minimize exposure to  UV- light.  Photographs and brief description of these manuscripts and prints are available for viewing on the web  Special Collections Manuscripts  under the title Sawhill, J.A. Collections, Series 2a and 2b.

    Leaves from a French Gothic Biblia Sacra demonstrate the typical form of manuscript in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Manuscripts were hand-written by scribes; the style of writing in JMU’s leaves is tentatively identified as “Gothic litteralis textualis.”  The demand for manuscripts grew dramatically in the later fourteenth century as a wealthier middle class sought to purchase their own prayer books. Paris was the capital of manuscript production with numerous individual workshops and illuminators who were both male and female. This example shows an ordinary text page with the red and blue calligraphic flourishes around initials beginning a new chapter.  

    (text: Dr. Kay Arthur)

    The most important pieces in the collection are pages from Hartmann Schedel’s Liber Chronicarum (1493), also known as the Nuremberg Chronicle.This has been called “the most ambitious publishing project of the century.” The text consists of a comprehensive history of the world (as they knew it). Nuremberg, in Northern Germany, was the center of the new art of printing. Beginning in the 1470’s local book publishers hired artists to illustrate their texts with woodblock prints. Michael Wolgemut (Albrecht Durer’s teacher) and Wilhelm Pleydenwurf supposedly used 645 blocks for the over 1800 illustrations which illustrated the Nuremberg Chronicle. JMU’s pages display various Catholic popes, saints, Roman Emperors, and famous Renaissance scholars, such as the Florentine humanist Poggio Bracciolino.

    (text:  Dr. Kay Arthur)

    The pages from the German edition (1548) of Vitruvius’s De Architectura, are of great interest both historically and artistically. Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (c. 70-25 b.c.) was a Roman architect who wrote a handbook on architecture, which was a major source of inspiration for Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical architects. The original Latin text was not illustrated, so Renaissance printers commissioned new woodcut illustrations based on verbal descriptions in the text. This page, probably from chapter VIII on water, illustrates a waterwheel and a machine that has been identified tentatively as a version of Archimedes’ screw. Its design can be compared with similar ones in other early books such as Fra Giocondo’s edition (Venice, 1511).

    (text: Dr. Kay Arthur)


    Two other collections from the JMU Fine Arts collection are on permanent loan and display in Carrier Library.  The Study Center for Art and World Cultures located in old main lobby on the first floor of Carrier Library and Images of the Ancient World, Greek and Roman coins,  first floor lobby.

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