From The Koninklijke Bibliotheek
The Biblia pauperum or literally translated, the Bible of the poor, is not actually a Bible, but rather a complex presentation in text and illustrations of related scenes from the Scriptures.
In the first panel we see Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist. Moses leads the Jewish people out of Egypt's bondage. The pursuing Egyptians are swallowed by the Red Sea.
Joshua and Caleb are returning, richly laden, from their expedition to spy out the land on the other side of the river Jordan.

Thus, three important themes from the Scriptures are united in this illustration - with a unifying theme being of promise and the fulfillment of prophesied destiny.

That God had a specific purpose for the individual was a revolutionary idea at the time of this publishing. Here, in this early example of the printed word, we find such an idea beautifully illustrated. The coming of Jesus was the fulfillment of years of hope and expectation, poetically described by prophets and holy men and women centuries before. As well, the nation of Israel was directed by God (Jehova) to a land of promise. This place of promise was not achieved without some difficulty. And yet, the nation of God's chosen people were protected on their journey to this promised land. Finally, Joshua and Caleb are seen returning from surveying the "promised land," carrying with them a portion of the rich fruit of that land.

In the "Bible of the Poor," of "Pauper's Bible," these were, and remain, important images by which to understand God - a God (Jehova) who has a benevolent place of dwelling, spiritually and physically, for all those who follow him. That, as well, such a place is promised by the most venerable prophets; and that our journey towards God will be guided and protected by his divine hand. Lastly, we are to understand that rich blessing will fill the lives of those who embrace God and his word of promise and place.
  Biblia pauperum. Block book.
[The Netherlands, c. 1460-1470].
2º, 40 (-2) leaves.
Provenance: Tongerlo collection, 1828

Specifics concerning the manufacturing of the Pauper's Bible

In the second half of the fifteenth century there were three different ways to make a book: copy the text in writing, print it with movable type, or print it from woodblocks. Of manuscripts or codices one copy was made by a copyist, whereas Johann Gutenberg's invention to print with movable type made it possible to have a few hundred copies of the same text in a short time, and at the end of the fifteenth century sometimes many more.

The third way, the printing of block books, stands between the manuscripts and incunabula qua number of copies. Block books were made by cutting text as well as illustrations in a block of wood. This was subsequently inked, and a sheet of paper was laid on top of the block. A print was made by rubbing the paper. As the water-based ink blotted the paper, this was only printed on one side. The blank backs of the sheets were often glued together.

Few block books have come down to us. Yet more than 120 copies or fragments of the Biblia pauperum are listed in the catalogue of the exhibition Blockbücher des Mittelalters, organized in the Gutenberg-Museum in Mainz, in 1991. But those surviving copies belong to different editions or states. There is no conclusive evidence of their chronological order, as dating block books is very problematical. Paper research has resulted in dating Dutch block books to between 1460 and 1470. It is very difficult to discern the watermarks in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek copy, because the backs of the pages have been glued together. In the thirty-eight extant pages (two of the original forty are missing) an anchor watermark can be distinguished eleven times.





Bible of
the Poor




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