Apocalypsis Sancti Johannis, 1470
This book, printed in Germany in 1470, includes part of the text of the Apocalypse of Saint John, the last book of the Christian Bible, also known as the Book of Revelation. It tells the story of the great heavenly warfare between good and evil, Christ’s return to earth, the punishment of the wicked, and the reward of righteousness. This edition of the Apocalypse is a superb example of block book printing.
The early editions of the Apocalypse were ‘stacked sheet’ blockbooks, in which the pages were printed in pairs, side by side, on one side of the paper, and the printed sheets then folded and placed one after another to be bound. The opposite pages, the rectos, remained blank. Blockbook printing emerged in simultaneously with moveable type printing, around 1450s. This is one of the earliest such books to have survived.
Block books were picture books in which image and text were carved from a plank of wood, inked, and then pressed against paper. Block book printing emerged in the 15th century and was used to produce Bible tales and moral stories for a semi-literate population. Block book printing originally was thought to be the precursor to printing with movable type, but more recent research has indicated that these scarce books were created in the same period that Gutenberg introduced printing to Western Europe.