March 17, 1999

Display includes leaf from famous Gutenberg Bible and rare Renaissance illustrated books

An exhibition on the history of the printed book, drawn from Cornell University Library's rare book and manuscript collections, is now on display in the Exhibition Gallery of the Carl A. Kroch Library on the Cornell campus.

The exhibition, titled "The Art of the Book," is open to the public through May 28. It covers 500 years of typography, book illustration and bookbinding, beginning in 1455 with Johann Gutenberg, the inventor of printing from moveable metal type. The exhibit goes on to chronicle some of the principal innovations in the history of book design through the early 20th century.

Viewing hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday afternoons from 1 to 5 p.m. (However, the gallery will be closed Saturdays, March 20 and March 27, during Cornell's spring recess.)

"This exhibition is intended as a visual introduction to the book as an artifact and its history," said Katherine Reagan, acting curator of rare books and curator of the exhibition. "The physical book has its own story to tell, and this story is just as fascinating as some of the textual information these books contain."

Several Cornell classes are taking advantage of the exhibition as a teaching tool this semester, including a freshman writing seminar called "Information Revolutions: From Medieval Manuscripts to Virtual Texts," and GeoSci 200, which examines the physical anthropology of a variety of cultures and objects, including the book.

Works produced by some of the most influential typographers and book designers of the past five centuries are on display, as well as many spectacular artists' books. Highlights of the exhibition include a leaf from the famous Gutenberg Bible (1454) and other specimens of early printing, such as Aristotle's Works, the first major piece of Greek prose printed in its original language, which was published in Venice by Aldus Manutius in 1495-1498. Also on view is a

book produced by England's first printer, William Caxton, in 1482. In addition, the exhibition presents more utilitarian examples of printing, which emphasize the connections between political and social upheavals -- such as the advent of the Industrial Revolution -- and how the appearance of the printed page changed over time.

Illustrated books on display include what is considered to be one of the most beautiful books of the Italian Renaissance, Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, printed in 1499. Other examples of important illustrated works include a lushly engraved edition of Milton's Paradise Lost, published in 1688, and Geoffrey Chaucer's Works, published in 1896 by William Morris at his Kelmscott Press, which has 87 wood-engraved illustrations designed by Edward Burne-Jones.

For more information, contact the Cornell Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections at (607) 255-3530, or send e-mail to rareref@cornell.edu.