The Manuscript Tradition

Although it would eventually be recognized as one of the most important technological developments in history, printing was not immediately embraced. As one scholar points out, even forty years after the invention of printing, many book collectors were still commissioning manuscripts even though "every manuscript ascribed to the second half of the fifteenth century is potentially ... a copy of some incunable [that is, early printed book]."1  There are several reasons for this.  Most scholars and collectors of the early Renaissance were more familiar with manuscripts and were not willing to let go of them so quickly.  Further, printing was developed in Germany and the Germans were still regarded as barbarians to the inhabitants of the Italian peninsula, particularly the Florentines.  Of course, printing did eventually become widely adopted but not without a somewhat rough start.

The illustration at left shows Jean Miélot, a well known Flemish scribe, at work in his study.  Miélot died in 1472, just as his scribal craft was beginning to be replaced by printed books.


1.  Bühler, Curt F., The Fifteenth-Century Book: The Scribes, the Printers, the Decorators, ( Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press , 1960), 16. Quoted in Knieriem, K. Lesley, Book-Fools of the Renaissance, University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Occassional Papers, number 195, June 1993 ( Champaign : University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 1993), 37.

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