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Blockbook

Apocalypsis Sancti Johannis (ca. 1465)
Germany (Hesse?), ca. 1465
Purchased with the Bennet Collection by Pierpont Morgan, 1902; PML 6
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The Apocalypse of St. John was one of the most imaginatively depicted biblical narratives in the medieval period, and there are many highly decorated manuscripts of the text. The text was printed for the first time in the early-1450s in northern Europe. Each page of text and imagery was carved into individual wooden blocks and printed onto paper sheets (xylographic printing). These blockbooks, as they are now called, were printed as needed by customers—they were the first "print on demand" books—with colors added by hand. The newly invented printing press was not capable of printing such heavily illustrated texts, but the woodcut technique could handle both image and text together and made the book slightly more affordable. The imagery in the Apocalypse blockbooks is closely related to manuscripts from the thirteenth century, including one from England now also in the Morgan Library (MS M. 524). This image depicts the dragon attacking the Children of the Woman in the upper half (Apoc. 12:17), while below, John witnesses the Apocalyptic Beast arise from the sea (Apoc. 13:1).

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The programs of The Morgan Library & Museum are made possible with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.