The Bibliotheque Nationale de France (BNF) revisits Johannes Gutenberg’s discovery of movable-type printing with the exhibition “Imprimer! L’Europe de Gutenberg” (to July 16, 2023). Though not the first printing press, Gutenberg’s version was the first to spread across the world. Woodblock printing in China dates back to the 9th century and Korean bookmakers were printing with movable metal type a century before Gutenberg.
Although Gutenberg was probably unaware of Asian printing techniques, he was able to look to practices that also existed in Europe, where it was possible to print and reproduce images using an engraved matrix (first on wood, then on copper). His press led to an information revolution and the unprecedented spread of books throughout Europe. It also had an impact on the development of the Renaissance, Reformation and humanist movement.
His contributions to printing include the invention of a process for mass-producing movable type; the use of oil-based ink; and the use of a wooden printing press similar to the agricultural screw presses of the period.
The exhibition includes exceptional pieces from the BnF collections such as the oldest known Western woodcut, the “Bois Protat” (late 14th or early 15th century), the oldest preserved book in the world printed using metal type, “Jikji” (Korea, 1377), and the first major European book printed using letterpress: the “Gutenberg Bible” (Germany, circa 1455).
“Imprimer! L’Europe de Gutenberg,” The Bibliotheque Nationale de France, to July 16, 2023.