Incunables (early printed books) (1451-1500)

An incunable, or sometimes incunabulum (plural incunables or incunabula, respectively) is a book printed during the earliest period of typography - i.e., from the invention of the art of typographic printing in Europe in the 1450s to the end of the 15th century (i.e., January 1501). Such works were completed at a time when books - some of which were still being hand-copied - were sought by an increasingly large number of readers. The name comes from the ancient Latin word for "baby clothes" or the medieval Latin one for "things of the cradle."

The convenient but arbitrarily chosen end date for identifying a printed book as an incunable does not reflect any notable developments in the printing process, and many books printed for a number of years after 1500 continued to be visually indistinguishable from incunables.

In the books produced using this new technique, the work of the printer and publisher, who were often the same person, was limited to the realization of the text. The titles and initials were added by hand by rubricators and illuminators. However, since illumination was more effectively executed on parchment, in every edition approximately twenty copies would be printed on parchment destined to be decorated by professional artists, while some paper copies were embellished with drawings in ink.

In the later fifteenth century, at a time when manuscript books and printed books coexisted in parallel, the art of illumination reached its zenith, developing different characteristics in the various Italian cities where Renaissance courts were based and there were similar developments in Germany, France and Spain.

Preview Picture Data Info
Gutenberg Bible
Private collection

Gutenberg Bible
Incunable (C.9.d.4)
British Library, London

Gutenberg Bible
Incunable (Ms. 15)
Lambeth Palace Library, London

Aulus Gellius: Noctes Atticae
Incunable (Auct. L.2.2)
Bodleian Library, Oxford

Pliny the Elder: Naturalis historia
Incunable (Inc. 670, 2 volumes)
Biblioteca Classense, Ravenna

Pliny the Elder: Naturalis historia
Incunable (Inc. 670, 2 volumes)
Biblioteca Classense, Ravenna

Pliny the Elder: Naturalis historia
Incunable (Inc. 670, 2 volumes)
Biblioteca Classense, Ravenna

Historiae Romanae Decades by Livy
Incunable (PML 266)
The Morgan Library and Museum, New York

Petrarch: Canzoniere and Trionfi
Incunable (Inc. Ven. 546)
Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice

Guillaume Fichet: Rhetorica
Incunable (Membranacei 53)
Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice

Book of Hours
Incunable (Inc. E. 25)
Biblioteca Trivulziana, Milan

Giovanni Boccaccio: Filostrato
Incunable (Pal. E. 6. 4. 111)
Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence

15th century
Incunable (MS 5793)
Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Paris

Antoninus Florentinus: Chronicon
Incunable (Inc. 234/1)
Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest

Decrees, Pope Innocent IV
Incunable (Mon. Typ. 1481, 2, 10)
Landesbibliothek, Gotha

Summary of illuminated manuscripts (miniatures)
Late Antique and Pre-Romanesque periods
351-400 | 401-450 | 451-500 | 501-550 | 551-600 | 601-650 | 651-700
701-750 | 751-800 | 801-850 | 851-900 | 901-950 | 951-1000
Romanesque period
1001-1050 | 1051-1100 | 1101-1150
Early and High Gothic periods
1151-1200 | 1201-1250 | 1251-1300
Late Gothic and Renaissance periods
1301-1350 | 1351-1400 | 1401-1450 | 1451-1500 | 1501-1550
Book covers
Illuminations by known masters
List of illuminators

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.