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JOHANN GUTENBERG

As the Renaissance spread throughout Europe, it took on a more religious character. Northern scholars, like those in Italy, looked to the past to find out how best to live in the present. But they looked more to early Christianity, and less to ancient Greece and Rome. They learned ancient Greek and Hebrew in order to study the Bible in its original languages, and campaigned against corruption in church and public life. They rebuilt education around their new ideas, seeing its purpose more in character development than in practical training. Their approach is known as humanism. Flemish painters brought a new kind of detailed realism to painting. Printing was revolutionized by Johann Gutenberg (c. 1400-68) in Germany.

The Gutenberg Bible, published in Mainz in c. 1455, is named after him. It is thought to be the first book in the West printed with movable metal type - that is, with each letter on a separate block, so that it could be reused after a page was printed. Similar printing methods already existed in the Far East, but were little known in Europe. Some 40 copies of the Gutenberg Bible remain today. It has coloured decorations which were added by hand.

In the first stage of typecasting, a hard metal punch, carved with a letter, was hammered into a soft metal to make a mould. The mould was placed in a holder. A ladle was used to pour molten metal, a mixture of tin, lead, and antimony, into the mould to form a piece of type. The type was arranged in words on a small tray called a composing stick. The letters had to be arranged upside down and right to left. Gutenberg adapted a wine press to apply pressure quickly and evenly over the whole sheet of paper. This kind of press remained in use for the next 350 years. The ink was spread on a metal plate and then dabbed on the type with a leather-covered tool. Later on a roller was used to apply the ink more evenly. Printers tried to match the beautiful handwritten manuscripts that had been made by the monasteries, mostly in gothic or black-letter script. So in the first printed books Gothic type was used. Roman type, which is used in this text, was invented by Italian printers.

By 1500 more than 200 European cities had printing presses. Although there had been some wood block printing in Europe before this time, it took a long time to cut each block and it could only be used for one page in one book. But the 1700 new printing presses in Europe had already produced around 40,000 books which were made up of nearly 20 million volumes. Because movable type was far quicker and was reusable, new ideas could spread with much greater speed and impact, as the Reformation was to show. Knowledge could be preserved more reliably. Poor people who couldn't read gathered to hear books and pamphlets, often lavishly illustrated, read aloud. The sudden spread of learning which resulted was later called the Renaissance.



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