The Mirror of Salvation: Speculum Humanae Salvationis. an Edition of British Library Blockbook G. 11784

Article excerpt

The Mirror of Salvation: Speculum Humanae Salvationis. An Edition of British Library Blockbook G. 11784. Translation and commentary by Albert C. Labriola and John W. Smeltz. (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 2002. Pp. viii, 194; 58 black and white illustrations. $65.00.)

It is difficult to imagine the audience envisioned for this edition by its editor-translators. The editors say their purpose is to present the Speculum Humanae Salvationis "in an immediately accessible and understandable form and to the widest possible present-day audience" (p. 6). Judging from their approach, they are resurrecting this late-medieval text for a modern, non-specialist reader. While the translation of the Speculum text that forms the core of the volume will be useful as a finding aid for English-speaking scholars working in the fields of medieval art history, history, theology and literature, the explanatory texts are simplistic and the apparatus is minimal.

The volume consists of a short introduction, a list of woodcut illustrations, reproductions of the woodcuts accompanied by an English translation of their Latin captions and texts, a modem commentary on the text titled "Interpreting the Blockbook," a cursory and somewhat dated bibliography, and an index. The editors provide no rationale as to why they chose the second Latin edition of the Speculum, dated by vanTheinen and Goldfinch as c. 1474-75 (.Incunabula Printed in the low Countries, 1999, item 2007), for translation and reproduction. This Speculum edition is, in fact, very interesting as it combines xylographie printing (also known as prototypography) with moveable type, though readers are not told why this might be interesting. The first Latin edition, also printed in the Netherlands, and subsequent editions are not discussed.

In their brief discussion of xylographie reproduction (the terms 'xylography' and 'prototypography' are nowhere used), the editors say that the woodblocks were "moistened with dye" (p. vii), which is odd, as the usual substance for printing in this period is ink. Very little is said about the role of blockbooks in the early history of printing; there is no mention of A. H. Stevenson's important discovery about watermarks in blockbooks, for example; and there is no discussion at aE of the role that typographical images like those found in the Speculum play in the margins of Books of Hours, the best-selling book of the later Middle Ages. In their introduction, the editors do say they hope their work will encourage readers to explore further the iconography in "Gothic" stained glass and sculpture, and in Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel (p. …


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