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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Mainz : Johann Fust & Peter Schoeffer

The Mainz Psalter 1457

RCIN 1071478

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This is one of only ten copies known of the second book to be printed by the system of movable metal type, the first being the Gutenberg Bible, printed in Mainz 1453-5. It is also the first book known to have been printed in red and black. This was done with a single pull of the press, the type to be printed in red having been inked separately from the black and reinserted into the same forme (the locked frame holding the prepared type). The large two-colour initials were printed from woodblocks by a similar method, the block for the letter being separable from the block for the surrounding pattern. By contrast, the large blue, red and black capitals were inscribed, as were the music and their accompanying words, and some of the rubrics (words in red, usually instructions to the celebrant, or catchwords to help him find his way about the page).

The invention of printing would eventually greatly speed up the mass-production of books for both secular and clerical use. However this early de luxe volume, printed on vellum rather than paper, and with many manuscript additions, would have taken a considerable amount of time to produce. Its first known location is in the monastery of St Ursula at Hildesheim, close to Hanover, from which it was purchased in 1758.

When this volume entered the Royal Collection (in 1800), it did so as a rare and valuable example of the earliest printing. George III, while interested in religion and personally a very devout man, acquired this Psalter, not because it was a Psalter, but because he was a bibliophile. It was an attitude that would have been impossible 120 years earlier. James II was king, and a very devout Roman Catholic. Although he started his reign in a spirit of religious tolerance, he soon assumed a policy of returning England to a Roman Catholic state. That his successor could acquire such a magnificent, high status Psalter more in a spirit of bibliophilic, rather than religious, fervour, shows the long term effects of the Glorious Revolution (1688). James II fled the throne of England, while the joint rule of William III and Mary II re-established England firmly as a Protestant country.