Printing


Printing
   The new art of mechanical production of books with mov-able type emerged in northern Europe, probably at Mainz in western Germany, by the early 1450s. Its immediate and obvious effects were two: it greatly increased the supply of books and reduced their cost (by 80 per cent, according to contemporary evidence), and it facili-tated the rapid diffusion of texts and illustrations.
   The long-term significance of printing for the history of civiliza-tion is even greater. For the humanistic and even the artistic and mu-sical side of the Renaissance, the art of printing ensured far more rapid diffusion of new texts and new ideas, and at a cost far less than the cost of hand-copying every single copy. From an early date, the new art was also used for legal forms; for the diffusion of laws, proclamations, and notices by political authorities; and for other pub-lic posters and notices. Thus it significantly affected the administra-tive practice of institutions, both governmental and ecclesiastical. The Renaissance humanists' work of rediscovering, editing, and dif-fusing newly discovered classical texts was revolutionized, since the standardized nature of the printed text fixed and stabilized a scholar's editorial work on a text in a way impossible when every copy in-volved error-prone production by hand.
   On the other hand, humanistic texts were by no means the domi-nant product of the early presses. Religious books (such as the Guten-berg Bible and the Mainz Psalter), textbooks for both grammar-schools and universities, books of devotion and meditation, books of popular literature in the vernacular languages — all of these consti-tuted significant portions of the early production. In the long run, no field benefitted more than the natural sciences, since manuscript technology had been even less successful at reproducing comprehen-sible illustrations than at reproducing accurate texts. The combina-tion of typeset letters with woodcut or copperplate engravings meant that illustrated books, including scientific books that required draw-ings, could be mass produced accurately for the first time.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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