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SCU Digital Collections

About this collection

This collection features illustrated books from the original Mission Library and from the early Santa Clara College collection, with books dating from 1518 to 1803.

The earliest printed books in Europe took their style from manuscripts. The letters resembled the common handwriting of the time, and the ornamentation was done by hand. As printing became accepted as an art form in its own right, printers sought for ways to add decorations – ornamental capitals and illustrations – on their own. The woodcut, which was already in use to print holy images to sell to pilgrims, suited perfectly. Both movable type and woodcut were relief printing, so text and image could be printed in a single twist of the press. There were limitations, though. The process of carving the block was tedious, and the material did not take well to detailed work.

Copper engraving, and the related art of etching, solved the problems of woodcuts. Production was less labor-intensive, and it allowed fine lines and shading. Where the white areas are cut away in woodcuts, in copper plate printing, only the black areas are cut into the sheet of copper, and by controlling the depth, the artist could adjust the darkness of the line. The new method posed its own problems, however: copper was more expensive than wood, and because the image was recessed, these plates had to be printed separately from the text.

The chosen illustrations fall into four types: Printer’s Devices, Witnessing, Armchair Travelers, and Classical Education. Here are examples of each from this collection :

Printer's Devices

printer's device of a dolphin and anchor

At the time these books were printed,
they were sold unbound, so it was
the title page that made the first
impression. The title page was often
the grandest page in the book,
and printers made sure to put
their unique marks on them.
They could be serious or humorous,
straightforward or allegorical.
Long-lived printing houses would
make changes over time to keep
their marks fashionable. 

An example of this is from the
Amorum libri, Venice, 1518.
The 'Dolphin and Anchor Device'
of Aldus Manutius refers to the adage
Festina lente, or ‘Make Haste Slowly.’ It was through this balance of speed
and accuracy that the Aldine Press became one of the most highly regarded
printing houses of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.


God walks in the Garden of EdenReligious artwork serves the dual purposes of meeting aesthetic
desires and bringing past events to life, giving the viewer
an opportunity to participate as a witness.

While books were by no means cheap, they were relatively
affordable when compared to commissioned paintings
or sculptures. 
The juxtaposition of word and image found in an illustrated book
enhances the experience of reading and of seeing,
encouraging the audience to reflect on how the two means
of communication interact. 'God Walking' is a woodcut
from the original Mission Bible. This volume is heavily illustrated with small woodcuts
of striking detail and quality.

Armchair Travellers

The Great Temple of Mexico

As European powers sent explorers around the world, every report,
every bit of news, was a source of fascination.
Travel narratives fed the reading public’s desire
for knowledge, adventure, and exoticism.
These books were well suited to extensive – and expensive –
illustration, allowing printers to charge high prices
while showcasing the quality of their work.
The Jesuits, as global missionaries, collected heavily
in this field.
'Il Tempio, maggior di Messico', a copper etching
from Storia antica del Messico, is a good example
of an exotic local brought home to readers.




Classical Education

woodcut of a plant

In the early years of Santa Clara College,
students were required to learn both Latin and Greek,
both reading and composition, in order to earn
a Bachelor of Arts.
Classical authors were read for content
and analyzed for structure and style.
Curious and amusing illustrations would have
helped to keep language learner’s interest
focused on the book at hand, as shown
by this illustration, 'Granadillae Ramvs',
from Historia Natvrae.


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