“You’re so vain, you probably think the Song of Songs is about you!”: An Illustrated 16th-Century Bible


Hans Holbein, “Expulsion from Eden” (Genesis 3)

Adam and Eve are having a bad day: they disobeyed God, got caught, and are being run out of Eden by an angel with a flaming sword. Undoubtedly they’re in no mood to appreciate the invention of death metal, pace the skeletal guitarist shredding the soundtrack to their misery.  Judging by his grin, though, he doesn’t care, certain that eventually they’ll notice his riff’s got a good beat and they can dance to it—that, in fact, they must dance to it …

This woodcut from Hans Holbein‘s Dance of Death and Icones Historiarum Veteris Testamenti (both produced ca. 1523-1526) also illustrates the third chapter of Genesis in an edition of the Vulgate (Paris: Guillard and Desboys, 1552) annotated by the French theologian Jean Benoît (1484?-1573), a copy of which was recently acquired by the Penn Libraries as part of the Peter Way Collection of Early Modern TextsContinue reading

Letterpress Treasures from the Common Press

The Common Press was founded at the University of Pennsylvania on January 17, 2006, the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth. As such, you would be right if you guessed that the “Ben” below is, in fact, in reference to Benjamin Franklin (2006, created by students at the Common Press).


The Common Press was conceived as an interdisciplinary project by the Kelly Writers House; the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts; and the University of Pennsylvania Fine Arts program, to create an environment encouraging collaboration among students with an emphasis on working among digital and analog design, writing, and image making. Located in the printmaking facility of the Fine Arts program, the press houses equipment spanning over two centuries including several antique presses, lead and wooden type, and wood cuts and photogravure plates.

Common Press printed projects and ephemera, 1998-2016, Print Coll. 37, includes broadsides, posters, flyers, postcards, cards, and chapbooks, and the projects were created using a variety of printing processes and techniques. Event posters include the one below, printed using charcoal (2010, created by Sophie Hodara and Matt Neff).


Over the years, the press has formed long-standing relationships with local institutional partners including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Wharton Esherick Museum, the Print Center, and the Institute of Contemporary Art– an example of which is shown below (2012, created by Mark Owens).


The projects show a variety of printing techniques and image styles– see details below of two striking examples from 2010 (at left, created by students at the Common Press), and 2007 (at right, created by Matt Neff).



The projects also feature pieces of captured language, as well as famous sayings, as in the two examples below– at left (2006, created by students at the Common Press), a bit of wisdom from Benjamin Franklin, and at right (2008, created by students at the Common Press), a snippet of overheard conversation.



If these images have inspired you to embark upon your own letterpress project, I’ll leave you with this final sentiment, below (2012, created by Marianne Dages).

This collection is now open for research use.

La moral filosophia del Doni, tratta da gli antichi scrittori.

La moral filosophia del Doni, tratta da gli antichi scrittori, by Giovanni, da Capua, 13th cent.

Two inscriptions: the library of the Convento di San Francesco di Ceneda; Bartolomeo Zorzi d’Ampezzo

“Spectat ad Biblio[thecam] S. Francisci P.F. Reformat[orum]? Cenet[ae]”
Ms. ownership inscription of the library of Convento di San Francesco di Ceneda of the Reformed Franciscans.
Second inscription: “Donum D. Bartholom[a]ei Zorzi de Ampitio”
Probably Bartolomeo Zorzi d’Ampezzo (no dates).

Penn Libraries call number: IndC K1247 Ei552m

The Abbey Memory System

Woodcut explicating the abbey memory system of the Dominican Johann Horst von Romberch in his Congestorium artificiose memorie (Venice: Melchiorre Sessa, 1533). In this cut are “sets of objects to be memorized in the courtyard, library, and chapel of the abbey. Each fifth place is marked with a hand and each tenth place with a cross, in accordance with the instructions given in [the popular rhetorical textbook] Ad Herennium for distinguishing the fifth and tenth places. Obviously there is an association here with the five fingers. As Memory moved along the places, these were ticked off on the fingers.”–F.A. Yates, The Art of Memory (London: Pimlico, 1992), p. 116.

Call Number: GC5 H7958 520c 1533

Hand-colored Coat of Arms of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor

Woodcut coat of arms of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor (1459-1519) surrounded by the arms of Austria(?), Styria(?), Carinthia(?), and Carniola(?).

Found in: Dialogus mythologicus Bartolomei Colonie[n]sis : dulcibus iocis, iucundis salibus, co[n]cinisq[ue] sente[n]tiis refertus, atq[ue] diligenter nuper elaboratus, by Coloniensis Bartholomaeus, ca. 1460-ca. 1516.

Woodcut used by Hieronymus Vietor and Johann Singriener of Vienna.

Call Number:  GC B2834 489e 1512

Woodcut Diagram of a Visual Alphabet

Woodcut diagram of a visual alphabet from Johann Horst von Romberch’s work on memory, Congestorium artificiose memorie (Venice: Melchiorre Sessa, 1533). “Visual alphabets are ways of representing letters of the alphabet by images. These are formed in various ways; for example with pictures of objects whose shape resemble [sic] letters of the alphabet, as compasses or a ladder for A; or a hoe for N. Another way is through pictures of animals or birds arranged in the order of the first letter of their names, as A for Anser, goose, B for Bubo, owl.”–F.A. Yates, The Art of Memory (London: Pimlico, 1992), p. 124-125.

Call Number: GC5 H7958 520c 1533

Woodcut (“Sauritt des Papsts”) after Lucas Cranach the Elder, used by Christian Rödinger the Elder of Magdeburg, of the pope riding a sow, holding steaming excrement

Woodcut (“Sauritt des Papsts”) after Lucas Cranach the Elder, used by Christian Rödinger the Elder of Magdeburg. According to I. Gobry, it is a reproduction of a Cranach woodcut (no. 6) in Martin Luther’s 1545 polemic Abbildung des Bapstum (cf. Image de la papauté (Grenoble: Millon, 1997), p. 118). R.W. Scribner unpacks the symbolism of the image in the context of Luther’s intent to “discredit papal plans for a General Council of the Church”:

The pope rides on a sow, carrying a spiral of steaming excrement on his open palm. The Latin text at the top says this is how the pope holds a council in Germany. The German text states that the sow must allow itself to be ridden and spurred from both sides. There are two allusions here. Luther often spoke of Germany as the “papal sow”, to be force-fed with papal lies for the pope’s sole gain. There was also a popular riddle in circulation, and which appeared in print in 1541: “How do you ride a sow so that it does not bite? — Put dung on your hand, and when the sow smells it, it will chase it and not bite the rider.” The message, then, was that Germany may well seek a council from the pope, but all it could expect was lies and deceit. (Cf. For the Sake of Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), p. 82-83.)

The image may also have anti-Semitic undertones, recalling satirical depictions of Jews riding on pigs (cf. R.W. Scribner, Popular Culture and Popular Movements in Reformation Germany (London: Hambledon Press, 1987), p. 292).

Call Number: GC5 F5948 550e